Zumba prostitution racket shocks small US town
List of male clients released after a US fitness instructor was charged with running a prostitution operation out of her zumba studio in Kennebunk, Maine.PT0M0S 620 349
The small picturesque town of Kennebunk in Maine used to be known for little other than its proximity to Kennebunkport, the seaside home of George Bush snr's summer retreat and a place where the former US president spent much of his childhood.
Now however, the town has found itself the focus of national media attention for rather more unwelcome reasons following a sex scandal which threatens to embarrass some of its most high-powered and respected individuals.
They found out when police charged 21 men with "engaging in prostitution" and released their names. To the dismay of residents, the list included a prominent lawyer, a local estate agent, a financial adviser and a former high school hockey coach
It began after Alexis Wright, a 29-year-old fitness instructor, was accused of moonlighting as a prostitute at the studio where she taught the Colombian dance programme Zumba. In a town of only 10,000 people, police claimed the premises had been frequented by up to 150 clients and that Wright apparently videotaped many of her encounters.
Alexis Wright ... allegedly videotaped her clients. Photo: Reuters
But events took a twist when police announced they would release a list of some of those who had used her services.
The move sent the small Kennebunk community into a state of feverish anticipation, with speculation rampant about who would be included. As Kristen Schulze Muszynski, managing editor of the local Journal-Tribune newspaper, told CNN: "Everyone wants to know who's on that list. You can't go anywhere without people bringing it up."
This week, they found out when police charged 21 men with "engaging in prostitution" and released their names. To the dismay of residents, the list included a prominent lawyer, a local estate agent, a financial adviser and a former high school hockey coach.
Rocked ... Kennebunk in Maine has become the centre of attention in New York. Photo: AP
Particularly striking was the inclusion of James Soule, 58, a former mayor of nearby South Portland. "He obviously feels terribly about this," Soule's lawyer said yesterday. "The biggest impact of this is on his family and his friends. That's truly the most dreadful situation.
The scandal has cast a pall over the normally sunny resort. "All of us who know and appreciate Kennebunk as the wonderful, family-oriented community it is are saddened by this situation," Barry A Tibbetts, the town manager, said.
The publication of the names has caused considerable controversy.
Denied 106 counts related to prostitution ... Alexis Wright. Photo: AP
When they were released, they came with no other information such as the men's ages or addresses. It meant that many innocent men in the town found themselves being accused of involvement in a scandal they had nothing to do with.
These included Paul Main, 65, who works for the sheriff department in York County, which encompasses Kennebunk. After the names were published, he was suddenly inundated with calls about the case. The law enforcement officer had the misfortune to have the same name as one of those on the list.
He spent Monday night and Tuesday trying to clear his name. "I don't have a problem with releasing names," he said. "I think it's a wonderful thing, but I'll be darned if it's right to do it in a shoddy manner." Stephen Schwartz, an attorney for two of those on the list, argued in court against releasing the names. He said: "The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case in which the government, we believe, will have great difficulty proving."
Kennebunk ... Alexis Wright is accused of operating a prostitution business out of her zumba studio in the town. Photo: AP
The case is particularly complex as the men on the list are charged with a crime and are therefore suspects. However, as some may have been videotaped by Ms Wright without their consent, they are also technically victims of invasion of privacy, an offence Ms Wright has also been charged with.
Despite this, police say further names will be released later this month. Others named on the list include Gary D Bahlkow, 57, a real estate agent with his own company; Jens W Bergen, 54, a lawyer; Joseph P Cuetara, 63, a financier; Peter M Wormell Sr, 61, a local restaurant owner; and Donald Hill, 52, a former hockey coach at Kennebunk high school.
The men are charged with a Class E misdemeanour of engaging in prostitution, which comes with a fine of $200 for first offenders and six months in prison for repeat offenders. Those named on the first list are due in court on Dec 5.
Ms Wright has denied 106 counts related to alleged prostitution.
The Daily Telegraph, London