SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - A former University of New Mexico president was arrested on Thursday for an alleged role in a massive online prostitution scheme run by a New Jersey professor, police said on Thursday.
F. Chris Garcia, 71, a former professor of political science, was arrested by Albuquerque police in connection with Southwest Companions, a web site with almost 1,400 members, Albuquerque police chief Ray Schultz said at a press briefing.
Investigators learned that Garcia used the online name “Burquepops” and was a “moderator” on the Southwest Companions website, Schultz said.
“The true identity of Burquepops is F. Chris Garcia from the University of New Mexico. He had been actively attempting to delete postings in order to remove any information that linked him to the web site,” Schultz told reporters.
Garcia’s arrest is the second in the investigation. David Flory, 68, a Fairleigh Dickinson University physics professor, was arrested on Sunday while surfing the Southwest Companions site from a Starbucks patio in Albuquerque.
Flory, who Schultz said used the online name “David8” to moderate the Southwest Companions site, was charged with 40 counts of promoting prostitution.
Flory has a vacation home in Santa Fe and another home in Manhattan. He posted $100,000 bond on Wednesday and was released from jail, Schultz said.
Garcia, who remains in custody, was identified as part of a group described as the “hunt club”, which Schultz said was “a group of male clients that would help procure additional clients from outside of the state and from other websites and bring them into the Southwest Companions group.”
Charges against Garcia include promoting prostitution, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence, Schultz said.
Lawyers for Garcia and Flory were not available for comment on Thursday. According to the University of New Mexico website, Garcia was President of the university from August 2002 to July 2003. He has also served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Vice-President for Academic Affairs, and Provost.
The University issued a statement on Thursday saying they would continue to fully cooperate with law enforcement.
“Media reports which state the search warrants were served in connection with the multi-state online prostitution ring are deeply disturbing,” university spokeswoman Susan McKinsey said.
Southwest Companions differed from “community services” sites like Craigslist or Backpage, which offer individual postings for everything from furniture to escort ads, because “this one was moderated and organized” for sexual hook-ups, Lt. William Roseman, a special investigations officer with the Albuquerque Police Department, said on Sunday.
The site included a three-tiered hierarchy system, whereby trusted “johns” could move up in status through certain acts with prostitutes, he said. The highest level of access included a rating system for prostitutes, as well as detailed information about prostitution stings, with the names of arresting officers and other operation aspects, Roseman said.
“They thought they could never be infiltrated because of the levels of security they tried to build into it,” he said.
Schultz said investigations were “ongoing” with many search warrants sealed. Charges of racketeering are expected to be added to the case, with additional charges pending from the district attorney’s office, he told reporters on Thursday.
Officials are awaiting the results of computer and cell phone forensics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which could take up to three weeks, police said.
Editing by Peter Bohan