October 26, 2012

Police name 21 alleged Kennebunk 'johns,' but confusion follows

Officials withhold addresses and ages, making it difficult to positively identify the people accused of engaging a prostitute.

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

Kennebunk police released the names of 21 suspected prostitution clients of a Zumba instructor Monday without providing any other identifying information, such as ages, hometowns or addresses.

click image to enlarge

A for lease sign hangs in the window of the former Pura Vida fitness studio in Kennebunk recently. Alexis Wright has been charged with running a prostitution operation out of the studio and a nearby one-room office.

AP / Clarke Canfield

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Superior Court's ruling on the appeal by alleged 'johns'

The highly anticipated release followed a ruling by Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren that denied an attempt by two alleged "johns" to prevent police and prosecutors from making the names public.

Warren decided, however, that the addresses of alleged clients who may be victims of violation of privacy in the case would be withheld.

The names are the first released from what has come to be known widely as "the list," which reportedly has more than 150 names, including those of prominent figures.

Kennebunk police released them in accordance with directions from Town Attorney William Dale, who said he interpreted Warren's order and the statute the judge cited to mean that no other information should be made public.

Dale said he instructed police to omit all addresses and ages because it wasn't immediately clear which suspects were possible victims of invasion of privacy. Police will add the identifying information for those who are not victims and send it to the media, Dale said.

Each of the 21 people has been charged with engaging a prostitute, a misdemeanor. Each is due in Biddeford District Court on Dec. 5.

The Portland Press Herald will not publish the names of the alleged prostitution clients without verifying their identities.

Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman said, "Justice Warren's decision to release names without address information such as hometown creates confusion and can damage the reputations of innocent individuals with similar names."

He said, "We will publish the names only when their identities are clearly revealed."

The case has drawn national attention to Kennebunk, which has been bracing for the names on the list to become public.

Alexis Wright, 29, operated a business in Kennebunk where authorities say she prostituted herself and secretly taped the encounters.

Police said in an affidavit that searches of Wright's business and her home in Wells turned up "meticulous" client records, hours of recorded sex acts and evidence that those acts would have generated $150,000.

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

Her alleged partner, Mark Strong Sr., 57, has pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanors. The businessman from Thomaston is charged with violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution and conspiracy to commit those crimes.

One man said late Monday that he's furious that someone with the same name as his is on the list, and that people think it's him.

He said Kennebunk police should have released more information so people would know he is not charged with engaging a prostitute.

He said his telephone had been ringing since the list was released late Monday afternoon.

"I'm almost to tears and I'm 65 years old," he said. "This is how bad it hurts me."

Asked about possible misidentifications, Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee said he is barred from releasing any more information.

Monday's developments followed a last-minute effort by two alleged "johns" to stop the anticipated release of names.

The two, represented by lawyer Stephen Schwartz, went to court Thursday, the day before police were expected to begin releasing names.

The plaintiffs lost their initial attempt in Biddeford District Court late Thursday and an appeal there the next day. They filed a notice of appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday, but withdrew it Monday and filed a new complaint in Superior Court, where Warren got the case.

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