SANFORD — A caterer who operates a banquet hall in town has promised to stop hosting monthly sex parties, which have shocked residents and jeopardized the company’s operating licenses.
Sanford was abuzz Wednesday after town officials ordered James and Susan Colley of Springvale to stop hosting parties for a southern Maine swingers’ club at the former Knights of Columbus hall at 47 High St., which has been a polling place for more than 20 years.
Town officials are so concerned that residents may be offended at the prospect of voting where sex parties occurred that they are directing Ward 7 voters to cast ballots Nov. 8 at the Ward 3 polling place, at the St. Ignatius Gym on Riverside Avenue.
“Not knowing what might be present or how clean the hall might be, we moved the polling place in case anyone might be uncomfortable voting there,” said Town Clerk Sue Cote.
Cote said the Colleys won’t get their annual $100 stipend for hosting a polling place. The loss of income, though small, comes at a bad time for the Colleys.
Court records show that the Colleys and Great Beginnings Catering at Mousam View Place are in bankruptcy proceedings, although the banquet hall is a popular venue and the Colleys also work for Sanford Community Adult Education.
Sanford school officials have taken no action to remove the Colleys from their jobs – he’s an instructor and she’s a secretary – according to Business Manager Michael Kucsma.
James Colley, 56, informed town officials late Tuesday that he had told the operator of the swingers’ group that the sex parties “will no longer take place at Mousam View Place,” according to an email he sent to Code Enforcement Officer Shirley Sheesley.
“It was never our intent to violate any codes or embarrass this community, the building owner or ourselves,” Colley wrote to Sheesley.
The Colleys did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Town officials moved to stop the sex parties after two undercover police officers attended a Halloween party at the banquet hall Oct. 15 and saw about 40 people engaging in all forms of sexual activity, said Police Chief Tom Connolly. He had received several complaints after the first two parties, held July 30 and Aug. 27.
A letter to the Colleys dated Oct. 21 outlined several ways that the sex parties violate town and state licensing regulations. It also informed them that they don’t have a permit to operate an adult business, though it failed to mention that town zoning doesn’t allow adult businesses.
The letter ordered the Colleys to stop promoting the 500-seat banquet hall as a venue for sex parties and admitting patrons “for purposes of engaging in or observing nudity or sexual conduct.”
The building is owned by Northborough Realty Holdings of Chelmsford, Mass. Kevin Gillis, an officer of Northborough Capital Partners, told town officials that he was unaware of the sex parties, said Town Manager Mark Green. Gillis didn’t respond to calls for comment.
The Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic service organization and social club, sold the building in 2002, according to the York County Registry of Deeds. Great Beginnings Catering has been a tenant in the building since at least 2004, according to town records.
The catering company’s food, liquor, dance and entertainment licenses will be up for renewal on Tuesday before the Town Council. The liquor license expired Oct. 5 and the other licenses will expire Dec. 31, said Cote, the town clerk.
On Oct. 12, James Colley applied for licenses at 47 High St. under a new company name, Fresh Start Catering.
“The council will be scrutinizing those applications,” Green said. “Sanford is a very family-oriented community and we don’t think having that sort of activity meets the standards of our community. The Colleys are part of the community, so I really don’t know what they were thinking in hosting those parties.”
Green said several groups are scheduled to hold events at the banquet hall in the near future, including fundraisers for homeless shelters and pancreatic cancer research, and organizers fear that they will be left without a venue.
News of the sex parties titillated and upset townspeople, especially residents of East Side, an older, mostly residential neighborhood of wood-frame single-family houses and apartment buildings.
“I didn’t even know it was going on,” said Dezza Tomasini, who lives near the hall. “It’s kind of unnerving when something like that happens right in your neighborhood, especially when you have kids. Not knowing it’s going on, what if you walked in on it? Consensual or not, it’s still prostitution if you’re paying to be there. It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.”
The sex parties, publicized on a swingers’ group website, apparently started in July and were scheduled to run through December. Couples and single men paid $40 admission at the door; single women got in free. Many vehicles in the parking lot Oct. 15 had Massachusetts license plates, Police Chief Connolly said.
No one has been charged with a crime because the undercover police officers – a man and a woman who live in other communities – saw no criminal acts, such as prostitution, illegal drug use or participants younger than 18, Connolly said.
Concern about the sex parties mystifies Wendy Chapkis, a sociology professor and director of the women and gender studies program at the University of Southern Maine.
“The reaction seems so provincial to me,” she said. “Stop gasping. It’s not new. It’s not a moral crisis. It’s an opportunity to consider why we make it so difficult for people to have consensual, collective sex.”
Chapkis said she participated in lesbian sex parties in San Francisco in the mid-1980s, some of which attracted a few hundred women. She found them liberating and empowering.
“A great deal of the pleasure is to watch or be watched in a venue where sex is a public performance,” Chapkis said. “There’s a moral judgment being made here about where people can have sex. It’s not allowed if it’s not in the privacy of the bedroom. That’s interesting to me.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: