October 26, 2012

Kennebunk residents ready to see 'the list,' then turn the page

An alleged prostitution operation involving prominent people has townspeople curious, but a little weary, too.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK -- It's the question on many people's minds: Who's on the list?

click image to enlarge

This photo shows Pura Vida Studio in Kennebunk on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, where dance studio instructor Alexis Wright allegedly ran a prostitution operation.

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In this April 2011 file photo, Alexis Wright

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer

This seaside town waited with prurient curiosity Friday as police prepared to formally charge dozens of suspected "johns" with engaging in prostitution. More than 150 people, some of them prominent figures, are reportedly on a list of people who could be charged.

Many residents said they were interested in seeing who is on the list of alleged clients of Alexis Wright, 29, the former Zumba dance instructor who police say ran a sex-for-money business out of her studio in Kennebunk.

Residents also said the release of the names will start to bring closure to a story that has persisted for months and cast a shadow on a small, close-knit community.

"I think a lot of people are wondering if they guessed right about who might be on the list," said Deena Gallanti, who owns a women's clothing shop on Route 1 downtown. "Is it my doctor, or my Realtor, or my neighbor? ... But I'm also ready for it to sort of go away."

Peggy Sue Hersom, who lives in nearby Arundel and works in Kennebunk, said people who were willing to pay for sex must accept the consequences, however unpleasant that might be.

"I think it's human nature to be curious about who might be on there, but it's not going to be good for anybody," she said. "The hardest part is that people are going to judge whoever is on the list even if they don't know all the circumstances. Some people will forgive and some won't. But once everything is out, there will be no more whispering, no more speculation."

The town has been buzzing since February, when police say they searched Wright's studio and discovered evidence of prostitution, including video footage of Wright having sex with men, a ledger key with prices for various sex acts, and detailed client records.

The first person charged in the case was Mark Strong Sr., 57, an insurance agent from Thomaston who police say acted as Wright's business partner. He was charged in July with one count of promoting prostitution.

Court documents have detailed a personal and financial relationship between the two.

In indictments made public Wednesday, Strong was charged with 59 counts including promotion of prostitution and violation of privacy.

Wright faces 106 counts, including prostitution charges, violation of privacy, tax evasion and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.

Now that authorities have made their cases against Strong and Wright, they have turned their attention to suspected clients. Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee said investigators planned to serve court summonses in batches, beginning Friday and continuing into next week. No names were made public Friday.

Karl Hooper said he's not convinced that the names need to be made public. Hooper, who owned a men's clothing shop in Kennebunk for 35 years, said making the names public will break up families and cause irreversible damage for a misdemeanor whose penalty is a $200 fine.

Kathy Emmons, who lives and works in Kennebunk, said interest has been heightened because of speculation that prominent people are on the list.

"It's been dragged out long enough, though," she said.

Bob Doyle, who owns a frame shop in town, said people shouldn't be surprised that local folks engaged in prostitution, since "prostitution is the oldest profession."

"I guess because we have such a small town, there is more of a sense of 'How could this happen here?'" he said. "I don't know if this will harm the community, going forward, or if it will be something people laugh about later on."

Patrick Briggs, a retired Air Force pilot who lives in nearby Kennebunkport, has been watching the case unfold over the past several months. He said the names of the suspected clients are a matter of public record and he's as curious as anyone to see who might be on the list.

"It's going to cause a lot of embarrassment for a lot of people," he said. "There will be a loss of reputation and a loss of trust."

Like others, Briggs said releasing the names and getting everything out in the open will begin the process of moving forward.

"There is an obvious lascivious interest, but people have short attention spans, generally," he said. "There will be another crisis of the day."

 

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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