KENNEBUNK, Maine (AP) — The first batch of men charged with being clients of a woman accused of turning her Zumba dance studio into a brothel included a former mayor and men from more than a dozen towns in Maine, as well as one each from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
After initial confusion caused by the release of names without ages or addresses, a judge on Tuesday granted a request for additional information about the first 21 names out of what’s believed to be more than 150 men accused of paying a fitness instructor for sex.
The list included former South Portland Mayor James Soule, who didn’t return calls to his home and business, and didn’t answer his door.
Others on the list included a lawyer and a real estate appraiser. The men ranged in age from 34 to 65.
The town had been awaiting the release of the list since 29-year-old Alexis Wright was charged this month with engaging in prostitution in her dance studio and in an office across the street and secretly videotaping many of her encounters. Police said she kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
Wright, from nearby Wells, has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts of prostitution and other charges. Her business partner also pleaded not guilty to 59 counts.
The Kennebunk Police Department plans to release the remaining names of clients every other week as they’re issued summonses on an activity log, meaning the disclosure of names could continue until the end of the year. The next batch is due to be released Oct. 26.
The first wave of names initially created havoc for some innocent men because the lack of addresses and dates of birth made it impossible to verify exactly who was among the accused.
The addresses, ages and other identifying information of the johns were withheld after a judge ruled that state law required them to be kept confidential because the alleged sexual encounters may have been videotaped, making the men potential victims of privacy invasion.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren reversed course, ruling in favor of a request from The Portland Press Herald newspaper that sought the release of the addresses and other information.
Press Herald attorney Sigmund Schutz argued Tuesday that releasing only partial information was unfair to people not on the list.
“The fact is that by releasing names only, you’re getting a lot of false positives. You’re implicating people who may be completely innocent and simply share the same or similar names with people charged, and that’s a real harm,” Schutz told The Associated Press.
One of those men was Paul Main of Alfred, whose quiet evening was shattered Monday by a phone ringing off the hook and a half-dozen TV crews showing up on his porch. Reporters wanted to know if the retired sheriff’s deputy was one of the johns.
It turns out Main’s name is shared by at least 20 others in Maine, including one of the clients.
He spent Monday night and Tuesday trying to clear his name.
“I don’t have a problem with releasing names. I think it’s a wonderful thing, but I’ll be darned if it’s right to do it in a shoddy manner,” said Main, a retired spokesman and head of the detective division for the York County Sheriff’s Department.
Some news organizations published the initial list. Others, including the AP, declined to release any names without first verifying them.
Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank, said that just because a name becomes public doesn’t mean news organizations have to race to publish it.
“What journalistic purpose is served by publishing the name, and how do you balance that against the harm that may be done to these people, their families, their children?”
Clark said the situation would be different if the name of a public figure appeared.
“If the police chief is on the list, if the school superintendent on the list, I would approach those people directly and try to determine whether their actions are not just a personal moral failure but climb to the level of social, public hypocrisy,” he said.
As a former law enforcement officer, Main said releasing the names helps hold suspects accountable for their misdeeds. But, he added, other information should be released as well to protect those whose only connection to the case is having a common name.
“I don’t want to see other people going through the same thing that I’ve been through,” he said.
Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland and Glenn Adams in Augusta contributed to this report.