ALBUQUERQUE — 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.
District Judge Stan Whitaker ruled this week that the website, an online message board, and a computer account of the university’s former president F. Chris Garcia did not constitute a ‘‘house of prostitution,’’ the Albuquerque Journal reported. He also said the website was not ‘‘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.
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 said the state’s options include rescheduling the grand jury and appealing the judge’s order to the state Supreme Court.
No decision has been made, Drebing said, but 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 did not immediately return a call.
A woman who answered the phone at Flory’s residence said he had no comment.