UPDATE: (approx. 4:45 p.m. Mon., June 25) District Attorney Spokeswoman Kayla Anderson has confirmed the DA will move to appeal the judge’s ruling. She declined to give further comment.
The former UNM president accused of running an online sex ring could be off the hook after a judge ruled June 18 that brothels can’t exist in cyberspace.
New Mexico law defines a house of prostitution as a “place where prostitution is practiced, encouraged and allowed,” and according to court documents from the hearing, state district judge Stan Whitaker ruled that an online message board or computer is not a place of prostitution. The case is on hold following the ruling.
F. Chris Garcia and David Flory, a retired professor at a New Jersey university, are both accused of running Southwest Companions, a 1400-member, multistate online prostitution ring. On June 23, 2011, Garcia was arrested and charged with promoting prostitution, tampering with evidence and conspiracy for his alleged involvement with Southwest Companions.
The New Mexico law that defines what is and is not a brothel hasn’t been updated since 1981, before the advent of the Internet as the world now knows it.
Matthew Coyte, the vice president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told KRQE that Southwest Companions was simply a site that connected prostitutes and potential clients.
“Connecting people to do whatever they want to do is not illegal. It never has been,” he said.
Coyte does not represent Garcia or Flory in the case.
Garcia’s attorney David Serna said Garcia could still face other charges related to the case, but he’s not yet sure what those could be. The district attorney’s office could also push for the state supreme court to reverse Whitaker’s ruling.
Serna said Garcia feels encouraged that the judge agreed with the defense concerning the application of the law.
“He’s feeling wonderful … that he finally got his first day in court,” Serna said. “He is still very frustrated because even if these charges are completely thrown out, the public will be left with an impression based on a lot of false and untrue allegations.”
The DA’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
In the more than 50 years Garcia was employed at UNM, he served in positions such as provost, vice president of academic affairs and Arts and Sciences dean. He assumed the role of UNM president from August 2002 to July 2003.
According to APD, Garcia used the Internet handle “Burque Pops” and was one of seven site moderators known as the “hunt club.”
Lt. William Roseman, the detective in charge of the case, told the Daily Lobo last year that Southwest Companions moderators were in charge recruiting new clients and prostitutes and screening members to ensure they are not law enforcement agents. Garcia and other moderators were paid little, if anything, for their moderation duties, he said.