The former UNM president charged with promoting prostitution in connection with a large-scale online sex ring seems to be off the hook.
The New Mexico Supreme Court denied the Second Judicial District Attorney’s appeal of a judge’s ruling that the Internet is not a place of prostitution. That ruling, issued in June, left the DA’s office unable to charge former president F. Chris Garcia, who is also a current professor emeritus, in the case.
Garcia was arrested June 23, 2011, and charged with promoting prostitution, tampering with evidence and conspiracy for his alleged involvement with Southwest Companions.
Last June, a judge ruled that the website did not constitute a place of prostitution because it is not a physical place, according to a New Mexico law that defines a house of prostitution as a “place where prostitution is practiced, encouraged and allowed.”
The district attorney appealed that decision, but the state Supreme Court denied the appeal Wednesday morning. The DA’s public information officer, Kayla Anderson, wrote in an email that “We pursued our argument (Wednesday) based on the belief that the District Court’s decision was premature and that it is possible that a website can be a place of prostitution.”
Garcia’s attorney Robert Gorence said that because both the district and supreme courts have ruled that Garcia’s actions were not illegal, he hopes the DA will drop the case.
However, Anderson said the DA is still weighing its options as to how it might proceed. She said she does not know when her office will have a final decision. For now, the charges have not been formally dismissed.
Gorence said that one new piece of information the DA brought up in the Wednesday hearing was a bill introduced this session that would amend state law to include computers and electronic bulletin boards as places of prostitution.
“I don’t know if it would pass the First Amendment, to be honest with you,” Gorence said. “People talk about narcotic use all the time on chat sites and blogging, but that doesn’t make them guilty of violating the controlled substances law in the country.”
Even if the bill passes, the law could not be used against Garcia because it was not a law at the time of the alleged crime.
Garcia is still a professor emeritus at UNM, but he has been stripped of all privileges that come with the title, said UNM Director of Communications Dianne Anderson. He is also banned from campus unless he has an escort who has been approved by the University ahead of time. Garcia’s teaching contract was aup on May 31, 2011 and was not renewed. He is also not being paid.
Dianne said these restrictions may be lifted, depending on the outcome of the case.