Police in Kennebunk, Maine, have released a list of 21 men charged with engaging a Zumba fitness instructor for prostitution, the latest twist in a case that has rocked the small town and prompted a court order to identify those accused of purchasing sex.
The names of the men charged with the Class E misdemeanor of engaging a prostitute were formally released on Tuesday in what is probably just the first wave of identifications. The men are among a group of more than 150 accused of patronizing Alexis Wright, 29, who taught the Latin-flavored musical fitness program known as Zumba.
According to police, Wright used her dance studio and a nearby office for illegal sex acts, some of which she recorded. She earned about $150,000 over 18 months, police said.
Although the names were first released Monday, they did not include the men's middle initials, causing some confusion in an already turbulent situation. Some of the men had unsuccessfully sued to block the release, arguing their rights would be violated.
“The principle that court proceedings are public is essential to public confidence,” wrote Superior Court Justice Thomas D. Warren in his Monday ruling against the men. “If persons charged with crimes could withhold their identities, the public would not be able to monitor proceedings to observe whether justice has been done and to observe whether certain defendants may have received favored treatment.”
The battle over the names in Maine is similar to fights that have taken place in many locales as authorities try various shaming techniques to discourage men from seeking prostitutes. The aim is to shift attention from the prostitutes, many of whom are forced into lives of selling themselves, to their customers, who have a choice on whether to buy sex.
In New York City, the change was seen in a recent sweep called Operation Losing Proposition that targeted johns, as the male customers are known. More than 870 municipalities have policies that focus on johns and include releasing names, photos and using a variety of media.
The Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, a character in “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, would understand the idea of such shaming and why modern Kennebunk is being roiled by the allegations. Much like the colonial New England portrayed in the famed novel about adultery and Puritan sensibilities, Kennebunk, a town of about 10,000, has been reeling with curiosity over the identities and whether any prominent people are involved in the scandal. It has become the main topic of discussion as residents wondered who was on the list.
Kim Ackley, a local real estate agent, told the Associated Press that disclosure of the names would cause temporary pain for families but it's only fair because others who are charged with embarrassing crimes don't get breaks.
“What's fair for one has to be fair for the other,” said Ackley, who believes she knows several people on the list. “The door can't swing just one way.”
Meanwhile, the fitness instructor, Wright, from the town of Wells, pleaded not guilty to 106 counts of prostitution, invasion of privacy and other charges on Oct. 9. Her business partner, 57-year-old insurance agent and private investigator Mark Strong Sr., from Thomaston, pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor charges.
The 21 men are scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 5.
Ackley's daughter, Alison Ackley, who participated in Wright's class four or five times, told the news service that she had no idea of any illegal activity.
“She was so young,” Alison Ackley said to the Associated Press. “She had a lot going for her. It's a shame she was hanging out with these older men and getting money from them.”
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