F. Chris Garcia, a former interim president of the University of New Mexico and a longtime professor there, is the subject of a public hearing before the state’s supreme court on Feb. 6. on charges that a chatroom he helped operate, southwestcompanions.com, was actually a brothel, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
Garcia, 72, was arrested and jailed in June 2011 when police connected him and six others including Fairleigh Dickinson University professor David Flory, 70, to the website, which they claim was run like an online prostitution ring. Garcia and Flory were arrested on a criminal complaint that charged them with promoting prostitution.
Investigators told the Associated Press that the ring had some 1,400 members, including 200 prostitutes. The fact that two academics were charged was considered coincidental by police, who said members of the site paid anywhere from $200 for a sex act to $1,000 for a full hour of time.
Just as prosecutors were about to present the case to a grand jury, though, District Court Judge Stan Whitaker ruled that southwestcompanions.com wasn’t so similar to a call house, since sex workers were paid in cash by the clients, not through the site.
"The judge decided that you can't have sex on a computer," said Garcia's attorney, Robert Gorence to FoxNews.com. "They may have been able to charge my client with other things, but not maintaining a place of prostitution."
The AP said Garcia’s case “highlighted the difficulties that prosecutors face in using decades-old laws to combat a modern phenomenon.”
Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor who studies technology and prostitution, told the AP, "Most state laws only address street walkers and brothels and are so narrowly written that it's hard to prosecute these new cases.”
ABC affiliate station KOAT reported last week that both Garcia’s and Flory’s attorneys want the case dismissed.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Flory was not charged; he was in fact charged with promoting prostitution. Language has also been changed to reflect that neither Garcia nor Flory will be appearing in person before the state Supreme Court.
UPDATE: In February, the state Supreme Court ruled that the website run by Garcia and a fellow academic was not illegal.