The Wages of Sin

  Jerome Shea       November 25, 2011      Weekend Wonk

This was supposed to be a lark, an easy summer wonk. Perhaps an account of my week in Louisville reading the Advance Placement essays, and then of our road trip to SoCal to visit son Dan and some old Albuquerque friends who recently moved to San Diego.

And then the fecal matter collided with the oscillating device.

I refer to the astounding scandal here at UNM, the fascinating saga of the “Southwest Companions.” Perhaps you have heard of it? It is—or was—a very large and very sophisticated prostitution ring. When the story first broke it was with the arrest, here in Albuquerque, of the owner of the ring. And that owner (head pimp?) was 68-year-old David Flory, a physics professor at Fairlie Dickinson University in New Jersey. Well, academics are sometimes accused of prostituting themselves, but this was something different, and very titillating. The whole town was buzzing (and smirking) over this juicy developing story when we left for California.

But the feces hadn’t really hit the fan yet.

A few days later we were visiting those friends in San Diego when Stan said, “Jerry, do you know a guy at UNM named F. Chris Garcia?”

“I do, as a matter of fact; he’s one of the good guys.”

“Well, it says here that this good guy of yours was high up in that prostitution ring they just busted in Albuquerque."

“WHAT?” If I wore dentures I would have swallowed them then and there. If you submitted this as fiction, any editor would laugh you out of his office. I said that the Chris Garcia I knew was one of the good guys, and I stand by that. All these charges are, of course “alleged,” but all the reports so far are really damning. How in hell does something like this happen? How did we get to what the UNM Daily Lobo screamed in huge red type, “ONE BIG MESS”? I wish I knew.

Chris was a superstar in the Political Science Department, and later Dean of Arts and Sciences, Vice-President for Academic Affairs (a position that would later be known as Provost, second only to the President) and, finally, 17th President of UNM. Faculty tend to think of administrators as a necessary evil, but everybody liked and respected Chris Garcia. (He was, after all, one of us.) An expert on Hispanic politics in the US, he published about a dozen books and countless articles in his field. He was also an astute political analyst, a fixture on local TV on election nights. As if that weren’t enough, for his charitable work, his outreach work—you-name-it—he had a list of honors and awards almost as long as your arm. “Too good to be true,” something whispers to me, but that something seems too facile and I choose to ignore it.

Now we know him as “Burque Pops,”* one of the seven-member “Hunt Club,” those who brought in new clients and prostitutes and vetted members on how to be discreet. This man who was a pillar of his church and sang in the choir—I told you you couldn’t make this stuff up!—had, according to police, a raft of sex toys and pornographic videos in his UNM office. And in case you’re wondering, as far as the police know Southwest Companions wasn’t even a real money-maker. The Hunt Club members, as least, were not making big bucks. Flory called it “a hobby.” I bet Chris wishes he’d gone in for fly-tying or philately.

No, I don’t think it “too good to be true” in the sense that we should have suspected something, that paragons have to have dirty secrets lurking somewhere. Reports are that the ring leaders truly believed that they would never get found out, a belief as old as crime itself. What puzzles me is the unbelievable double life that my friend was evidently leading. When you think of those in the sex trade, you think of disreputable types who have always been into dodgy enterprises like drug dealing or racketeering or loan sharking. Guys you like to think you can spot a mile away. But sex has a certain allure, and I don’t mean just the obvious one. Since men will always seek out the oldest profession, surely it a laudable idea to want to make the business safe, discreet, and…well…respectable? I chuckle when I see a sleazy strip joint calling itself a “Gentlemen’s Club,” but that attitude has always been with us: nothing wrong with a lap dance if you’re a worldly sophisticate. And of course there is the simple thrill of the illicit. But I really don’t have a clue and I wonder if Chris does.

One last thought. Chris Garcia—the same Chris Garcia who was UNM’s golden boy—must be feeling a humiliation and shame right now that most of us will never have to endure. So by what calculus do you balance out a man’s entire life? I do wish someone could tell me that.

*”Burque” is slang for Albuquerque.

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