NJ professor accused of running prostitution site

June 21, 2011 1:23:20 PM PDT
A New Jersey physics professor who dabbled in scuba diving and harbored dreams of working in the theater had another hobby, New Mexico police say: operating a sophisticated prostitution website that may have catered to as many as 200 prostitutes and 1,200 clients. David Flory, 68, was arrested Sunday at a Starbucks in Albuquerque on 40 counts of promoting prostitution. The professor, who has taught at Farleigh Dickinson University since 1969, has a vacation home in Santa Fe.

A specialist in elementary particle theory, Flory also spent a decade in the school administration, where he said he spent time working on human resource database systems and measuring academic productivity -- skills that were evident from the three-tiered system police say he created for rating the privileges of johns who used the prostitution service.

Flory, a married father of three according to his personal website, was being held on a $100,000 bond Tuesday. He didn't respond to an e-mail message. His wife didn't return a phone message left at the couple's New York apartment.

Albuquerque Police Lt. William Roseman told The Associated Press that Flory's password-protected website, Southwest Companions, had been the subject of a vice investigation for the last six months after police received tips from prostitutes and johns.

Roseman said the site had been in operation about three years and had about 1,400 members -- about 200 prostitutes and about 1,200 johns. Most of the members were in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area, though some postings originated in Phoenix and Denver. The prostitutes were paid between $80 and $850 for their services, according to the criminal complaint.

Flory and his wife, Sharon, a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders, live in an apartment on New York's Upper West Side, about 10 miles from the Fairleigh Dickinson campus. Their Santa Fe vacation house is called Casa de Los Arboles, or "house of the trees."

The alleged prostitution site apparently didn't make a lot of money.

"He said he was not in this for the money," Roseman told the AP. "He flat-out told us his thing was he wanted to create a safe place for prostitutes and johns to get together. He called it a hobby."

Roseman said Flory "had dates set up" with the prostitutes when he came to New Mexico but couldn't say for sure what happened during those encounters.

Police said the Southwest Companions website had three levels or ratings for johns: probation, verified and trust.

"In order to get off probation you had to sleep with one of the prostitutes on the website and she in turn would tell the moderator (Flory) what acts occurred, how much they paid and any comments," he said. "That opened you up to verified status. Once you got into verified status that opened you up to different girls available. Then, some would e-mail the moderator, `This is the act, this is how much he paid, these are my comments about it."'

After so many of those, Roseman said, members moved into trusted status, which afforded access to features such as training videos on what do if you got caught by police. Members who reached the trusted level also could rate prostitutes.

Samantha Agosto, a 21-year-old nursing student at FDU who had Flory as a tutor a few years ago, said she never found anything either odd or remarkable about him.

"I never got that creepy vibe from him," she said in a telephone interview. "He was very friendly and very willing to give of himself to help a student, very willing to give his time."

According to Flory's personal website, he has two daughters, a stepdaughter and four grandchildren. In an interview with a university publication in February, he said he is a certified scuba diver and also said he has considered attempting a career in theatrical lighting design, a pursuit he'd followed in high school and college.

Referring to his time spent in the administration, he wrote on his website: "Now I spend a lot of my time working and playing with computer systems and software."

A Fairleigh Dickinson University spokeswoman said the school was saddened by the arrest, but did not say if Flory had been suspended from his job.

The campus was nearly deserted Tuesday, but some students hanging out at the campus center said the news caught them by surprise.

"It was just so random," said Tiffany Jones, a recent graduate from Red Bank, N.J. "It's irresponsible. It's just so bad for him to do something like that."


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