ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The distinguished former president of the University of New Mexico has become the latest academic accused of helping run an online prostitution ring through a website that recruited clients and prostitutes, but authorities say it didn't appear that any students were involved.
F. Chris Garcia, 71, was arrested Thursday at his home in Albuquerque, four days after physics professor David Flory of New Jersey's Fairleigh Dickinson University was taken into custody over the website, called Southwest Companions.
Police Lt. William Roseman said the academia link appeared "purely coincidental" and that investigators did not know how the two knew each other. They also did not think other schools were involved.
Investigators said the ring had some 1,400 members, including 200 prostitutes. Members of the site paid anywhere from $200 for a sex act to $1,000 for an hour, Roseman said. The prostitutes were paid in cash by the clients, not through the site, police said.
Roseman said Flory, who has homes in Manhattan and Santa Fe, N.M., described the site to police as a hobby.
"This was about sex," Roseman said, noting that a lot of the clients had too much to lose to go looking for prostitutes on the street. "They needed a safe place where they could go to do this."
Authorities said the ring was based in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area, but reached into Phoenix and Denver.
"There are probably some very nervous people out there right now," said Albuquerque Public Safety Director Darren White.
Garcia and Flory, 68, were among the ring's seven top members, police said. Six have been arrested, and warrants were issued for one more person, Albuquerque police Chief Ray Schultz said. He said human trafficking and racketeering charges were possible.
Police said Garcia used the online handle "Burque Pops" and was trying to delete his postings and other information linking him to the site.
He was accused of being part of the "hunt club," whose job was to look for new prostitutes. Police declined to release the ages of the women targeted.
The operators also used the site to build a database of undercover police officers to help members recognize them and avoid arrest, police said.
Police said the site was started in 2005 by Cara Garrett, who first tipped off vice officers after she was arrested on drug, child abuse and prostitution charges in December. Garrett was arrested Wednesday in Roswell for investigation of threatening another informant in the case.
Police said she sold the site in 2007 to another suspect, Mike Dorsey. He then sold the site in 2009 to Flory, police said.
Two other men, Porter Smith and Douglas Plummer, also were arrested, and a warrant was issued for Virginia Harringer, of Santa Fe. It was not immediately known whether any of them had retained attorneys. Flory was released Wednesday after posting bond.
Garcia is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of New Mexico and served as its interim president from 2002 to 2003. A distinguished professor and well-known expert on New Mexico politics, Garcia served from 1987 to 1990 as vice president of academic affairs, a position now called provost. He was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1980 to 1986.
Garcia is also an author whose 11 books include "Hispanics and the US Political System" and "Moving into the Mainstream."
The university said Garcia has been temporarily suspended, and called his arrest "a severe blow." The school characterized the allegations as "shocking, distressing and deeply disturbing."
At the school Thursday, Garcia's office door was closed and locked. University officials said he had no summer classes scheduled.
"It kind of scares me because you have to trust these professors and then when they do this kind of thing, it's like, how can you trust anyone, especially someone who's in a higher power?" said Marie Gonzales, a recent high school graduate from Albuquerque who was visiting campus.
Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.