HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. — This modest suburb of Detroit has at its disposal the juiciest, most titillating font of gossip imaginable: the computerized black book of a madam who ran a major prostitution ring right in their very own town. And what are residents doing with it? Nothing.
The names are there on a disc in City Hall, 7,000 of them for starters with more on the way. And what do folks here say? No thanks.
"I have absolutely no interest," they say.
"It would be too divisive."
"I'd rather not know."
OK, so not everyone in town shows such restraint.
Rita Lane, walking her dog past dirty snowbanks three feet high, admits she's "mildly curious" to snoop through the list.
"It would be kind of fun," allowed Phyllis Kramer, a city commissioner.
Seems lurid curiosity is impossible to squelch, even in a well-bred suburb like this one.
Huntington Woods police released the list last week on CD-ROM after two Detroit papers argued in court that it was public record. So far, no editor has seen fit to publish any of the names. But the list has already hit the Internet. And anyone can buy a copy for $80.88 at City Hall.
The records--which include not only names and addresses but also notes on who gave good tips--belonged to Marci Devernay, who pleaded guilty last month to racketeering charges for running a prostitution ring. She is due to be sentenced today. There was never an actual brothel here. Rather, Devernay set up a phone bank in her comfy home and from there dispatched her 30-plus employees--both men and women--to hotels throughout the region. That fact has much relieved locals.
"There was no actual prostitution going on within our city limits," City Manager Alex Allie said. Therefore, he concluded, Devernay's misdeeds are "certainly not a reflection on our community."
Still, the whole episode has startled folks here.
This is a city so quiet that the police chief has to stop and think when asked what kind of crime his force usually battles.
Needless to say, a prostitution ring that lured customers from as far as Europe and Asia has become quite the curbside talking point. "It has been the topic of the city," said Dolores Karibian, manager of Sam's Market, the only business in town. She knows all her customers by name, has been here since 1951 and counts herself firmly in the no-snooping camp. "It's probably a lot of people whose names we would recognize," she said disapprovingly. "None of us wants to know that."
It's still unclear how many--if any--people on the list are from Huntington Woods, a community of just 6,000.
Plus, even if a neighbor's name does pop up, that doesn't necessarily mean he did anything wrong.
Ever since word of the list leaked out, folks have been calling police and prosecutors explaining why their names might show up in Devernay's records: They once hired a stripper for a bachelor party. They were tense and called for a massage. They entered their business card in a free-lunch drawing at a Mexican restaurant, and couldn't someone have pulled out the card and used their name as an alias when paying for sex?
Prosecutor John O'Brien has heard all the excuses. Some, he figures, might even be valid. And since it's impossible to tell why any given name is on the list, authorities do not plan to go after the madam's contacts. "We don't know the relationship between people on this list and this woman," Police Chief Steve Fairman explained.
But no matter how many times authorities say that the list proves nothing, folks can't help but squirm.
Take George Hunter.
He's a business reporter at the Detroit News and he shows up on the list. Or, rather, the name George Hunter shows up. He swears it's not him. His wife, he says, believes him. Still, Hunter has suddenly become a firm believer in journalistic restraint. "There are probably a good 20 or 30 George Hunters in the area," he said.
"If we printed the list, every one of them would be sleeping on the couch."