Prostitution rings remain legal in New Mexico, as long they happen online and not in a “house,” the state Supreme Court ruled today in a case involving a former University of New Mexico president accused of running a prostitution website.
Prosecutors had accused former University of New Mexico Interim President F. Chris Garcia of providing prostitutes to 14,000 clients through a website called "Southwest Companions," with help from an out-of-state professor, David Flory. Garcia went by the name “Burque Pops” on the website.
The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling of State District Judge Stan Whitaker last June, which found that “an online message board” did not meet the definition for a “house of prostitution,” as outlined in New Mexico state law.
Neither the state Supreme Court nor Whitaker accepted the argument that Garcia deserved prosecution for managing a “virtual house” of prostitution. Critics say New Mexico’s prostitution laws have not kept up with technological changes in society.
The earliest reports of this story, in June 2011, said the Albuquerque Police Department investigation involved 1,200 johns and 200 prostitutes. By 2012, investigators told reporters that the 14,000 individuals had participated in the online prostitution ring.
In June 2011, Albuquerque’s Weekly Alibi interviewed police detectives who said “prostitutes for Southwest Companions cost between $200 and $10,000.” By September 2011, the Albuquerque Police Department told KRQE that “prices ranged from $200 an act to $1,000 for an hour.”
That same Alibi article quoted detectives who said Southwest Companions had catered to “high-class clientele.” SFR could find no subsequent reports that focused on the identity of these clients.
Given the court’s ruling, some attempts may be made to update the law.
State Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Sandoval, may lead the charge. Two weeks ago, Lewis introduced House Bill 196, which would increase penalties for prostitution, changing the charge for first-time offenders from a petty misdemeanor to a full misdemeanor. Last week, Lewis added another bill: HB 295, which would update the state’s laws on what counts as promoting prostitution. The bill specifically targets “electronic, virtual or online forum or an internet web site.”
But the Public Defender Department, according to a fiscal import report on the bill, argues that HB 295 would not equate a “forum or website” with a “house of prostitution,” and therefore would not solve the problem. According to the state’s legislative website, the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee will hear HB 295 tomorrow.
SFR has a call in to Garcia’s attorney, Robert Gorence, seeking additional comment on today’s decision; we’ll update this post as soon as we have more information.