KENNEBUNK, Maine – The first batch of more than 100 men accused of paying a fitness instructor for sex were laying low after police began releasing their names in a small New England town where rumors have run rampant for weeks.
Police on Monday released 21 names of men who were issued summons for engaging in prostitution with a 29-year-old Zumba instructor who's charged with turning her dance studio into a brothel in this seaside community and secretly videotaping her encounters.
Residents watched the news flash on their local evening TV news, and people could be heard discussing who was on the list as they walked through a supermarket parking lot and stood in line at a convenience store shortly after the names were made public.
The rumors are likely to continue in the weeks ahead as police release the names of other accused johns in police activity reports that are issued every other week listing people charged with offenses ranging from allowing dogs to run at large and marijuana possession to driving under the influence.
A judge ordered the release of names without ages or addresses, so it was not immediately clear their occupations and roles in the community, if any.
Kim Ackley, a local real estate agent, said that disclosure of the names will 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."
Residents had been anxiously awaiting the release of names since 29-year-old Alexis Wright was charged this month with engaging in prostitution in her dance studio and in an office she rented across the street. 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, invasion of privacy and other charges. Her business partner, 57-year-old insurance agent and private investigator Mark Strong Sr., from Thomaston, has pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor charges.
Police said more than 150 people are suspected of being clients and many of them were videotaped without their knowledge.
In town, residents heard the list could include lawyers, law enforcement officers and well-known people, heightening their curiosity.
The list of names was delayed Friday by legal action by an attorney representing two of the people accused of being johns. The lawyer, Stephen Schwartz, said releasing the names will ruin people's lives, even if they're acquitted of the misdemeanor charges against them.
Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren on Monday denied a motion seeking to block disclosure of the names. But he ordered that addresses should be withheld for those people who might have been victims of invasion of privacy when their acts were recorded. The Associated Press reached out Monday evening to men on the list, but it was difficult to confirm their identities without knowing their addresses.
Andrew Stanley, of Kennebunk, said the names should've been released sooner. Wright's alleged customers, he said, were mostly people with money or power who attempted to buy their way out of trouble through legal action.
"I think the names should have been released the second they were charged," he said.
But resident Leonid Temkin had mixed feelings about publicizing the names because it could cause marriages to dissolve and men to lose their jobs.
"I think it'll cause a lot of hardship," he said.
The prostitution charges and ensuing publicity, which reached across the country and beyond, came as a shock in the small town of about 10,000 residents, which is well-known for its ocean beaches, old sea captains' mansions and the neighboring town of Kennebunkport, home to the Bush family's Walker's Point summer compound.
Some people in town said they had their suspicions about Wright, but others were in the dark about the life of the bubbly dance instructor who introduced many local women to the Latin-flavored dance and fitness program.
Ackley's daughter, Alison Ackley, who participated in Wright's class four or five times, said she had no inkling of any illegal activity.
"She was so young," Alison Ackley said. "She had a lot going for her. It's a shame she was hanging out with these older men and getting money from them."
But Kim Ackley said she believes the interest will die down once all the names become public in the coming weeks.
"A year from now it won't even be talked about, once it goes through the courts," she said. "You've got to move on and go on with your lives."