Skooter reports 01/08/13
New Mexico’s highest court will have to consider the question of can a chatroom be a brothel in the case of a retired university president and professor mixed up in an alleged online prostitution ring.
The longtime University of New Mexico political science professor F. Chris Garcia, 71, who once served as the school’s interim president, was arrested in 2011 after Albuquerque police tracked down the IP address of a sex-for-sale website to him. Garcia was originally booked with maintaining a place of prostitution, along with David Flory, 70, a retired professor of physics at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
However a year later, in July 2012, District Court Judge Stan Whitaker decided that the website, southwestcompanions.com, was not identical to a house of ill repute. Even though johns and hookers allegedly met up on the site, Whitaker said facilitating meeting online did not suit the charge prosecutors sought to put before a grand jury.
Garcia’s attorney said that the judge decided that you can't have sex on a computer. The attorney added that they may have been able to charge my client with other things, but not maintaining a place of prostitution.
Deputy district attorney for Bernalillo County, Michael Fricke, said that everything is up in the air in the 18-month-old case because no formal charges have even been filed. Fricke disagreed with Whitaker's decision, and asked the state's Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling, so prosecutors can convene a grand jury.
The long delay in presenting the case to Whitaker in preparation for grand jury consideration is unfair to his client, Gorence said. However Fricke called the long delay “completely normal.”
Gorence said it took them more than a year to formally charge his client. He said it’s a case of let’s make an arrest now and file a charge later.
There were a number of 1,400 people who accessed the site and discussed things that may be “constitutionally privileged, Gorence said. He didn’t say what Garcia’s involvement was, other than he never received or paid money for any service linked with the website.
Garcia was immediately barred after his arrest from the UNM campus, even though he was not actually being charged with a crime. Previously he enjoyed emeritus status, which allowed him such privileges such as access to an office, computers and email.
Then-University President Dave Schmidly suspended those privileges upon Garcia’s arrest, pending the outcome of the law enforcement investigation. Gorence said that his client is suffering and wants his university privileges restored. Garcia was awarded in 2001 the American Political Science Association Distinguished Service Award.