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Judge: Former college president's website isn't 'house of prostitution'

Former University of New Mexico President F. Chris Garcia was arrested in June 2011.

A state district judge has ruled that a website on which a former University of New Mexico president is accused of helping run an online prostitution ring is not illegal, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

F. Chris Garcia along with Fairleigh Dickinson University physics professor David C. Flory and others were arrested last June and charged with a criminal complaint of promoting prostitution.

Garcia was a professor emeritus of the university who served as interim president in 2002-2003.

He and the others are accused of overseeing a website called Southwest Companions. Investigators allege that the site had around 14,000 members, including 200 prostitutes, who were paid anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for sex acts, although payment was not made through the site.

The case was scheduled to be heard by a grand jury Monday, but the Journal reported that State District Judge Stan Whitaker said in a ruling that a website, online message board and a computer of Garcia's didn't constitute a "house of prostitution." He added that the website wasn't a place where prostitution was  practiced, encouraged or allowed, the Journal reported. 

Defense attorneys had filed a motion earlier this month to prevent prosecutors from seeking an indictment "for conduct, that as a matter of law, is not a crime," the Journal reported. 

Whitaker agreed and told prosecutors that if they wanted to proceed they had to instruct jurors about the court's ruling. 

"We feel vindicated by judge Whitaker's ruling that in essence says he (Garcia) did not and could not have committed a crime," Garcia's lawyer Robert Gorence told msnbc.com.

He declined to tell msnbc.com what the website was used for. 

Prosecutors now must decide where to go from there. 

Since the state has no laws specifically addressing the use of computers for prostitution, federal laws may apply, the Journal reported. 

"If the website itself is not a place where prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed, and neither is a computer, is the room where the computer is stored?" Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Drebing told the paper. "Because the purpose of the website is to arrange sex between prostitutes and clients."

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Drebing told the Journal the state's options are to abide by Whitaker's order, come up with different charges or appeal the judge's order to the state Supreme Court.

He said that Whitaker ruled on facts that haven't been presented yet and that the defense merely offered a theory of the state's case in the motion, the newspaper reported. 

Gorence told the Journal last month that Garcia never received a penny from any activities as a result of the website and that he didn't control or direct the activities of women who advertised as escorts. 

He said Garcia's reputation has been harmed, the paper reported. 

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