October 26, 2012

Police fully identify 21 on alleged 'johns' list

A judge decides to allow release of more than just names as police get complaints from innocent people with similar names.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Kennebunk police disclosed the ages and addresses of 21 alleged "johns" of Zumba instructor Alexis Wright on Tuesday after a judge, amid criticism that releasing only the names could unfairly tarnish people with similar names, reversed his decision on what information could be released.

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Several satellite trucks were stationed on Route 1 in Kennebunk on Tuesday, across the street from a former Zumba studio implicated in a prostitution scandal.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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The first group to be charged with engaging a prostitute, which is a misdemeanor, includes at least one public figure, former South Portland Mayor James A. Soule.

Soule, 58, held the largely ceremonial position most recently in 2008. His attorney, Peter DeTroy, said Soule, now a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., regrets his actions.

"People behave at times in ways that, in retrospect, they wish they hadn't," DeTroy said. "That doesn't make them bad people."

The highly anticipated first round of names, from a list that reportedly contains as many as 150, was released to the media Monday without any other identifying information such as ages, addresses or hometowns.

The Portland Press Herald, among other media outlets, did not immediately publish the names because of the risk of misidentification.

The limited release caused confusion about who had been charged in the case, which has brought national media attention to Kennebunk. Television trucks from networks, Portland stations and Boston stations were parked downtown there Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities say in court documents that Wright's Zumba studio in town served as a front for prostitution, and that they found "meticulous" client records, hours of sex tapes and evidence that the sex acts would have generated $150,000.

Those documents have fueled speculation about Wright's alleged clients, particularly because people who are familiar with the list say it includes prominent figures.

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren ruled Tuesday that the addresses of the 21 defendants could be released. On Monday, he had ruled that while the names were public information, Kennebunk police had to withhold the addresses of defendants who may be victims of violation of privacy by Wright and her alleged partner, Mark Strong Sr. of Thomaston.

The two are accused of secretly recording sexual encounters in Wright's studio and office.

MaineToday Media, parent company of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, filed motions in Cumberland County Superior Court on Tuesday to persuade Warren to reconsider his original ruling.

The judge issued Tuesday's ruling during a telephone conference call that a reporter attended with permission from the court. Warren had not filed a written order explaining his decision by Tuesday evening.

The Press Herald's attorney, Sigmund Schutz, expressed appreciation that Warren amended his order within a few hours of the filing.

"It's for the protection of everybody that the criminal justice system works in the light of day. And that includes the names and identities of people charged with crimes -- big crimes and little crimes," Schutz said.

The newspaper argued that while a crime victim's address can be kept confidential, the records in question have to do with individuals' status as criminal defendants.

"The fact that an individual may appear in records held by the town of Kennebunk in two different capacities -- one as an alleged perpetrator of a crime, a second time as an alleged victim of a crime -- does not make his address confidential for all purposes," the motion said.

Warren was presiding in a case brought by two of the alleged "johns," who tried to block the release of names and the prosecution of their cases.

Their lawyer, Stephen Schwartz, argued several points regarding the privacy rights of his clients, saying their reputations and relationships would be harmed by the release of their names.

He said the only damage the defendants -- police and prosecutors -- would suffer was "the inability to continue to appeal to the prurient interests of society in an effort to stoke public scandal and outrage."

On Tuesday, Schwartz said his clients, identified in court documents only as John Does 1 and 2, did not oppose the release of addresses, since the names had been released. Schwartz said his clients did not want others to be subjected to speculation.

"They're ready to move forward and they don't think it's fair to other people who may have similar names as others who are being charged," he said during the telephone conference.

Kennebunk Town Attorney William Dale said earlier that the town agreed it would be appropriate to release the addresses.

"It's come to our attention, even on this first list of 21, that there's one or more false positives," Dale said. "So we think, in fairness, ages and addresses should be released to minimize, if not eliminate, the false positives."

Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee said he had been inundated with calls from people with names similar to those on the list released Monday. Police re-released the list Tuesday morning with the addition of middle initials.

"It was just to clarify ... and to give some relief to those people who are livid that they're being contacted by the media," said Bean Burpee.

Wright, 29, has pleaded not guilty to 106 charges in the case. Most of the charges are misdemeanors, but three are felony charges, related to taxes and receiving public assistance when ineligible.

Strong, 57, a businessman from Thomaston, has pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanors. He has been charged with violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution and conspiracy to commit those crimes. 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

Twitter: AnnKimPPH

 

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