It wasn’t about the money for a pair of aging academics, police say, so much as it was about creating a place on the Internet for men and women to meet for sexual encounters without the prying eyes of law enforcement.
Call it a cyber version of “The Dating Game” in which the host doesn’t get paid.
Except the men were johns, the women were prostitutes, and the whole operation was a complex, online network of illegal activity.
The two aging academics were a pair of longtime university professors who, according to law enforcement, were online pimps operating and moderating an organization called “Southwest Companions” that arranged sex with prostitutes ranging in price from $200 to $10,000.
One of them was F. Chris Garcia, a 71-year-old former University of New Mexico president revered on campus and celebrated as one of its best-liked professors, administrators and researchers.
As a member of the elite “Hunt Club,” Garcia – known as BurquePops – recruited at least 20 women who were in New Mexico or willing to come to the state to join the ring, police said.
They say he also served as a moderator of the organization, responsible for quality control and shielding the site from law enforcement.
His boss, according to police, was David C. Flory, a 68-year-old physics professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, who was arrested in Albuquerque earlier this week.
A monthslong APD Vice Unit investigation resulted in the arrests of Garcia, Flory and several prostitutes who were working for Flory’s “Southwest Companions” Internet ring, according to court documents.
For Flory, Garcia and others who worked with the site, “this was about sex,” said Lt. William Roseman said.
“They are needing a site or a place where they can go to do this where they are safe,” he said. “They’re not out on Central, where there’s a risk of being picked up by police officers. They have a lot to lose, and they tried to build an organization to protect themselves.”
After becoming aware of the site, detectives learned that Southwest Companions had three levels of membership: “unverified,” with limited access; “verified,” in which two or more members essentially vouch for a newer member who can then access more of the site; and “trusted,” which gives a member the ability to view the whole site and send messages back and forth with other members and “providers.” Police estimate the site had more than 1,400 trusted members.
A personal referral was required to gain access to the website’s first level.
No money was exchanged through the website, according to police. Clients worked out payments with the prostitutes, police said, and were expected to report back to moderators on how much they paid and whether they were satisfied. The prostitutes would also report back on their encounters.
Detectives are still trying to figure out how the finances of the operation worked and whether any members of its upper echelon were making a profit, officials said.
Flory told detectives that he was not making a profit and that it was not the purpose of the site.
Considering the scale of the organization, police expect more arrests.
“There’s probably some pretty nervous people out there today,” said Darren White, the city’s public safety director.
Like everyone else on the site, the johns used online handles instead of their true names, officials said. So sorting through a johns list of more than 1,000 identities will take time and will involve scrutinizing and tracing Internet Protocol addresses.
The site contained numerous checks to make sure prospective members were not law enforcement officers, according to the complaint. Garcia was one of seven moderators who screened members before allowing access to the full website, police said.
Members went so far as to build detailed profiles of undercover police officers based on the descriptions provided by johns previously arrested in sting operations. That counterintelligence information was shared with the site’s members in a section known as the “weather board.”
The site also had a section where members could essentially “rate” their experiences with different prostitutes. Members used codes on the site to describe different sex acts and ranked prostitute performance with a star system.
Detectives were able to become “trusted” members of the site, then set up encounters with different prostitutes, the complaint states. Some of the women were arrested. Others agreed to cooperate with detectives.
Court documents filed Thursday described the group of men associated with the site known as “The Hunt Club,” whose members were responsible for identifying women who either lived in New Mexico or were willing to come to the state to work as prostitutes. “Hunt Club” members, including Garcia, often looked to other websites to identify potential prostitutes.
Police said there is no indication Garcia was recruiting UNM students.
Flory owned the website since 2009, after buying it from former owner Mike Dorsey, 36, police say. Police say they have since arrested Dorsey, known as “Boss Man,” and the website’s founder, Cara Garrett, aka “Undercover Lover.”
Garrett is accused of threatening another member of the organization, who cooperated with law enforcement.
Police on Thursday also netted another member of the Hunt Club, Douglas Plummer, 40, in Albuquerque. He owns a landscaping company. A confidential informant identified Plummer, aka “Fishon,” as a member of the recruiting team. Police are attempting to identify at least three other unknown recruiters.
Journal staff writer Pat Lohmann contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal