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Judge: Ex-U. of New Mexico president's website, linked to prostitution ring probe, was legal
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) ' A state judge has ruled that the website of a former University of New Mexico president accused of helping run an online prostitution ring was legal.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/LBgbfj ) District Judge Stan Whitaker ruled this week the website, an online message board and a computer account of former University of New Mexico President F. Chris Garcia did not constitute a "house of prostitution." He also said the website wasn't "a place where prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed."
The case was scheduled to go before a grand jury this week.
The ruling means that prosecutors will now have to decide how to proceed with a case involving Garcia, Fairleigh Dickinson University physics professor David C. Flory and others who were arrested last June on a criminal complaint charging them with promoting prostitution.
The men were among seven people suspected of overseeing a prostitution website called Southwest Companions. Investigators said the prostitution ring had a membership of 14,000, including 200 prostitutes.
Members paid anywhere from $200 for a sex act to $1,000 for a full hour. Prostitutes were paid with cash, not through the website, according to police.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Drebing says the state's options are to reschedule the grand jury presentment and abide by Whitaker's order, come up with different charges or appeal the judge's order to the state Supreme Court.
No decision has been made, Drebing said, but regardless, the case has been delayed.
If prosecutors decide to go with different charges, their options are limited at the state level, he said. New Mexico has laws on the books for computer fraud and use of computers and the Internet for child pornography but none specifically geared toward prostitution.
Drebing said there may be federal laws that could come into play.
Garcia's attorney, Robert Gorence, did not immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press.
Gorence last month called on District Attorney Kari Brandenburg "to issue a statement exonerating Dr. Garcia" after owning up to "the mistake she made when she bought in to APD's flawed investigation and exaggerated charges."
Gorence told the Journal prosecutors and police know that Garcia "never received a penny from any such activities nor did he control or direct the activities of women who advertised as escorts." Statements to the media about the alleged conspiracy were "ludicrously false," he said.
Flory, a physics professor at in New Jersey who has a home in Santa Fe, is suspected of buying the site in 2009. It was created by a woman named Cara Garrett. Investigators said Garrett was still involved in the ring when she tipped police to its existence in December after being arrested on drug, child abuse and prostitution charges.
A woman who answered the phone at Flory's Santa Fe residence said he had no comment.