Albuquerque, NM

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Cameras
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
Letters
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city, with an estimated population of about 560,000 residents. Albuquerque is located in the high desert of north-central New Mexico, along the Rio-Grande, and serves as the county seat of Bernalillo County, NM. The city and greater county area have well-documented problems with prostitution and sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking and prostitution-related homicide. At least two serial killers specifically targeting prostituted women have operated in the city, and in 2011, a New Mexico State District Judge – the chief criminal court judge in Albuquerque – was arrested  and charged with raping a prostituted woman, making and selling a videotape of the rape, and intimidation of a witness. According to the criminal complaint, an informant helped a detective to locate and purchase a DVD of the sexual assault for $400. In addition to prostituted women, reports of sex buyers and sex traffickers being assaulted have been documented. This activity and its ancillary crimes have resulted in complaints to local law enforcement from residents and businesses.

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure

To combat the array of problems stemming from commercial sex, police have been conducting periodic reverse stings since at least 1978, if not earlier. In 1978, the city passed an ordinance equalizing the penalties for sex buyers and prostituted women. As a result of the new ordinance, police reportedly arrested over 50 male sex buyers in a series of street-level reverse sting operations. Many of the preliminary street-level reverse stings conducted by the APD resulted in large quantities of arrests. For example, in 1986, the APD conducted a street-level reverse sting at the annual New Mexico State Fair, that resulted in the arrest of 45 individuals; 43 male sex buyers charged with soliciting prostitution and two prostituted women charged with prostitution. As a result of these investigations, police have been known to release the identities of arrested sex buyers. For example, in 1982, the APD conducted a street-level reverse sting at the annual New Mexico State Fair, that resulted in the arrest of 13 male sex buyers, whose identities were release by police. In addition to street-level reverse sting operations, the APD began conducting internet-based reverse stings in 2005.

APD has continued conducting reverse stings in recent years, often at the request of the community. For example, in 2019, APD arrested 15 sex buyers in a sex trafficking sting after a neighborhood crime watch group reported prostitution in the area between San Pedro and Louisiana. APD Commander Mizel Garcia said,

They tell us who look for– what types of car, what times of day. To me, it’s something I want our community to know– if you are having this problem, please let us know and we will be out there.

In that 2019 reverse sting, APD also used identity disclosure by releasing photographs of the arrested sex buyers. Commander Garcia said he believed that identifying the men who were arrested serves as a warning to others. APD was also preparing to conduct additional stings during the State Fair and Balloon Fiesta.

A 2020 operation resulted in the arrest of eleven people for prostitution-related offenses, including one man who attempted to pay an undercover officer for sexual services with a hamburger. This sex buyer was also subjected to identity disclosure through the publishing of his name and picture.

In October 2021, five people were arrested during an underage sex trafficking sting conducted by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations. It involved posting a decoy profile for a 15-year-old girl on the escort website. BCSO said five men showed up as arranged at a local hotel, cash in hand, to find the supposed teen was actually an undercover detective. One of the men worked for the New Mexico Department of Health as a manager for a program serving people with developmental disabilities. The department said the sex buyer had been placed on leave and locked out of his email, as the department conducts its own investigation.

Neighborhood Action, Letters

In the 1990s, persistent prostitution and sex trafficking problems spurred the formation of neighborhood-led efforts, some of which targeted the demand for commercial sex. For example, the residents of the Huning Highland community, an area known for high rates of prostitution activity, used video cameras to record interactions between prostituted women and sex buyers on the streets, posted signs and banners with phrases like, “Hookers Out Now! Johns Go Home!,” and recorded the license plate numbers of sex buyers who frequented the area. The letters were sent to the person the car was registered to, warning that the car’s driver was “was engaged in activities that could be construed as soliciting the services of a known prostitute.”

In 2011, after the high profile scandal of a sitting judge raping a prostituted person and others – including a former university president allegedly involved in an elite online prostitution ring – community groups (such as RELEASE) began investigating anti-demand tactics, particularly whether the john school model could be employed in Albuquerque. However, some thought a john school would not viable because sex buyers rarely face severe punishment and prosecutors almost never argue for a jail sentence for a sex buyer. The idea did not garner enough support to be implemented in Albuquerque.

Auto Seizure

In mid-September 2013, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and other city officials, in addition to community advocates (e.g., RELEASE) presented a proposal for the city to adopt an ordinance that would enable APD officers to seize vehicles used for the purposes of prostitution. The ordinance allows police to seize and hold the vehicles of arrested sex buyers for 30 days for a first offense, and a year for a second offense. In November 2013, the ordinance passed through a city council vote, 8 to 1.

A vehicle may be subject to seizure or forfeiture if its driver or passenger has been arrested for prostitution, patronizing prostituted persons, promoting prostitution, or accepting the earnings of a prostituted person. The ordinance is intended to be used to seize the vehicles of sex traffickers/pimps or sex buyers when the vehicle is used in the course of the crime.

The one dissenting voter raised questions about people wrongly accused of a crime and the possibility of someone losing their car if a family member borrows it without their knowledge. In response, it was noted that the ordinance has an “innocent owner” provision that would allow someone to get their car back. Also, owners can contest the seizure by requesting an administrative hearing for $50. The hearing officer would determine whether the police officer had probable cause to seize the vehicle.

The ordinance relies on the city’s civil authority to “abate nuisances” which has been used to demolish dilapidated houses, seize cars driven by drunken drivers and target other activities. The ordinance declares vehicles used in prostitution as the “instrumentality of the nuisance.” The DWI seizure program has survived court challenges, city officials said. In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico raised legal questions about the prostitution ordinance, partly because it allows the city to seize a vehicle upon the driver’s arrest, without a conviction.

The ordinance said that the APD may seize a vehicle during an arrest and offer it back with an “immobilization device,” such as a boot. The “boot,” which requires the offender pay a $850 fee, enables officers to seize sex buyers’ vehicles (with probable cause) for up to 30 days. The city, however, is not be required to offer the immobilization option to every offender. Instead, a police officer could seize the vehicle and serve the person with a “Notice of Forfeiture” and also mail it to the registered owner of the vehicle. In early November 2014, city officials clarified to local news outlets that sex buyers re-arrested after being served with “a boot” may be subject to vehicle forfeiture.

Loss of Employment

Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex that has occurred in the city. In June 2011, Albuquerque and Santa Fe police uncovered a multi-state prostitution operation in which a website had been created to ‘match’ sex buyers with prostituted women online. The site was allegedly created by a prostituted woman in 2005, who told police about the website when they arrested her on drug, child abuse, and prostitution charges. According to the criminal complaint, “the site had been in operation about three years and had about 1,400 members – about 200 prostitutes and about 1,200 johns. The prostitutes were paid between $80 and $850 for their services.” As a result of the investigation, police arrested six men who were believed to be the top members, six of which were arrested and a warrant was issued for the seventh offender. Amongst the arrested offenders, were two university professors, one of which was accused of being the website’s owner. One of the arrested academics was the former President of the University of New Mexico and, at the time of his arrest, was employed as professor emeritus of political science at the university. He was arrested on charges of promoting prostitution, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence. The second academic arrested was a physics professor as Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, who was additionally found to be the website’s owner. He was arrested on 40 charges of promoting prostitution and was additionally suspected of using the website to solicit sex from prostituted women. Police reports stated that when he was arrested at a coffee shop in Albuquerque, he was using the website to solicit sex from prostituted women. As a result of the investigation, the professor from the University of New Mexico was suspended from employment, pending results from the investigation. The physics professor from Fairleigh Dickinson University retired as a result of his arrest. The identities and images of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.

In March, 2012, a New Mexico Department of Public Safety (NMDPS) officer was charged with extortion, bribery, soliciting prostitution, sex charges, and violating ethics laws after a being caught in a sting operation by Albuquerque police. Those charges were later dropped, but the officer was fired and a spokeswoman for the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office said the case was still under review in 2013, for possible indictments and another NMDPS officer filed reports informing his supervisor that the fellow officer was engaging in commercial sex with a prostituted women. In court papers filed in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, an NMDPS officer said he tried a number of times to report that he had seen prostituted women with a fellow Special Investigations Division officer in 2011. The NMDPS also faced a lawsuit in 2013 in state district court from the prostituted woman who was spotted in a patrol car with the officer. In that lawsuit, the unnamed woman said the NMDPS officer raped her numerous times and said he would take her to jail if she didn’t cooperate.

John School Proposal

In 2011, law enforcement and nonprofit groups attempted to establish a “john school” program in effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the city. According to police, the program was intended to supplement reverse sting operations conducted by the APD, as the department lacked the resources to run such operations every night. The program planned to educate first-time sex buyers about, “sexual exploitation, STDs, human trafficking and sexual addiction.” The sex buyer’s tuition would cover all the school’s costs. Additionally, the APD saw the need for a “john school” program as at the time, New Mexico was the only state in the Southwest that did not possess a “john school.” However, a “john school” program was never established in the city.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews (2012)

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Web-based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Community Service, Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action, Letters:

Identity Disclosure:

Loss of Employment, Sex Buyers Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Local Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Exploitation, Related CSAM:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State New Mexico
Type City
Population 560447
Location
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