Rep trying to close sex-site loophole

SANTA FE (KRQE) — A judge's decision in a high profile online prostitution case was a frustrating one for Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, and he wants to make sure future cases don't get dismissed because of what he sees as an online loophole.

Two years ago, investigators cracked open a secretive cyber community, Southwest Companions.

Police say the nonprofit online forum was used to connect johns and prostitutes with the intent of keeping cops in the dark.

In June 2011, former University of New Mexico President Chris Garcia was arrested and charged with promoting prostitution in connection with Southwest Companions. Investigators say Garcia was one of the site's leaders, helping scout out new prostitutes for the site under the username "BurquePops".

The charges were dropped later that year while District Attorney Kari Brandenburg's office worked on the case.

But when the DA tried to bring Garcia's case before a grand jury, District Court Judge Stan Whitaker made a key ruling.

Whitaker ruled that under New Mexico law, a "house of prostitution" is a physical location meaning a website doesn't count, a ruling that dealt a tough blow to the state's case against Garcia. Whitaker's decision is being appealed to the state Supreme Court by the District Attorney.

The law was last updated in 1981 well before the Internet was prevalent.

Lewis' legislation, House Bill 295, would bring New Mexico prostitution law into the 21st century and close the loophole for future cases, making it a felony to use an online forum or website to promote prostitution.

"To me it's a simple fix," Lewis said. "It's a no-brainer."

Lewis' bill would not affect Garcia's case, but that doesn't mean Garcia is off the hook. The New Mexico Supreme Court is hearing an appeal of Whitaker's decision Wednesday morning.

Lewis has introduced another prostitution-related bill, one that would crack down on johns by making the crime of patronizing a prostitute a misdemeanor instead of a petty misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would be a felony.

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New Mexico (change)

New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.
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Governor: Susana Martinez
Lieutenant Governor: John Sanchez
Attorney General: Gary King
Secretary of State: Dianna J. Durán

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