A prostitution website run by two elderly professors is legal, according to a New Mexico state judge.
Former University of New Mexico President F. Chris Garcia, 71, is accused of helping David C. Flory, 68, a retired physics professor from Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Madison, N.J., run the prostitution website, "Southwest Companions."
According to investigators, the website promotes prostitution. But Judge Stan Whitaker ruled that the website, an online message board, and an online user account owned by Garcia do not comprise a "house of prostitution," as defined by state law, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Whitaker also ruled that the website could not be considered a place where "prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed."
Whitaker's ruling highlights problems created when the legal system can't keep up with technology.
Prosecutors will have to determine how to move forward with the case against Garcia, Flory, and others involved, without letting them slip through loopholes created by outdated descriptions of their activities.
According to investigators, the website had 14,000 members, including 200 prostitutes. Members could pay as little as $200 for a sexual act, and up to $1000 for a full hour with a prostitute. All transactions were completed with cash, not through the website itself, police said.
Garcia and Flory were arrested in June 2011 on charges of promoting prostitution. Flory is accused of purchasing the website in 2009.
Robert Gorence, Garcia's attorney, told msnbc.com that he was satisfied with the ruling.
"We feel vindicated by judge Whitaker's ruling that in essence says he (Garcia) did not and could not have committed a crime," he said to msnbc.com.
This case highlights loopholes in laws that were created before the Internet and the difficulty prosecutors have convicting owners of websites like "Southwest Companions," which facilitate prostitution.
"Most state laws only address street walkers and brothels and are so narrowly written that it's hard to prosecute these new cases," said Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor who has written about prostitution and technology.
In order to change laws, Cunningham said, states are going to have to pass laws that outline step-by-step regulations on websites.
Many organizations and state legislatures are working on updating laws concerning prostitution and sex trafficking. Recently, Minnesota followed in the footsteps of New York, Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington by passing Safe Harbor legislation.
The Safe Harbor initiative aims to correct problems with state laws that treat teenage victims of sex trafficking as criminals, and charge them with prostitution instead of providing aid and counseling. The new legislation officially recognizes teenage prostitutes as victims. Safe Harbor also imposes stricter penalties on "johns" and pimps, who recruit teenagers and children and force them into a life of performing sexual acts for money.
Polaris Project, an organization committed to combating sex trafficking, reports 41 states currently have legislation concerning sex trafficking and prostitution.
"We must do more to reach those that are still trapped and who have been denied their freedom," said Bradley Myles, executive director of Polaris Project in a recent press announcement following the release of the State Department's 2012 Trafficking in Persons report.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Drebing said prosecutors' options are limited in the Garcia case because New Mexico has no laws on the books concerning computer use in prostitution.
He also said that prosecutors have not made a decision on how to proceed with the case.
"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?" Drebing told the Journal. "Because the purpose of the website is to arrange sex between prostitutes and clients."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.