By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - A New Jersey physics professor faces charges for running a massive online prostitution ring from his second home in New Mexico, an activity he said was a hobby, an Albuquerque police detective told Reuters on Tuesday.
David Flory, a physics professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, was arrested on Sunday as he surfed his website at an Albuquerque Starbucks, police said. He was charged with 40 counts of promoting prostitution, said Lt. William Roseman, a special investigations officer with the Albuquerque Police Department.
Attempts to locate a lawyer representing Flory were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Roseman said investigators had been following Flory, 68, and the website Southwest Companions for six months before arresting him while he sat on the coffee shop patio.
"Officers approached him from behind and grabbed his cell phone, which at the time was actively logged onto Southwest Companions," Roseman said. "He said it was his hobby, that it was for prostitutes and johns to have a safe place 'to hobby,' as he called it, without fear of arrest by law enforcement."
Southwest Companions differs from sites like Craigslist or Backpage, which offer individual postings for everything from furniture to escort ads, because "this one was moderated and organized" for hook-ups, Roseman said.
The site included a three-tiered hierarchy system, whereby trusted "johns" could move up in status through certain acts with prostitutes, he said. The highest level of access included a rating system for prostitutes, as well as detailed information about prostitution stings, with the names of arresting officers and other operation aspects, Roseman said.
"They thought they could never be infiltrated because of the levels of security they tried to build into it," he said.
Immediately following his arrest, search warrants were executed for properties in New York, New Jersey and New Mexico. Officials are awaiting the results of computer and cell phone forensics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation before closing their case, which could take up to three weeks, Roseman said. Investigators are also exploring whether Flory was getting any financial compensation from advertising on the site.
Flory has a home in Santa Fe and a second home on Manhattan's Upper Side, Roseman said.
He remained in custody on Tuesday with a $100,000 bond, lowered from $500,000, Roseman said.
(Editing by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)