BREWER, Maine — Police investigating a suspected prostitution ring used Craigslist and other online advertising sites to order six female escorts last Thursday and arranged to meet them at an undisclosed Wilson Street motel.
The prostitution sting resulted in charges against six local women and Michelle Powers-Jenkins, 42, of Orland, who is the owner and operator of an escort service called Cinnamon’s Sweets, which until recently was located on North Main Street in Brewer. All seven women were charged with promotion of prostitution, a Class D misdemeanor.
Other escorts and their clients may also face charges.
“There [have] always been rumors that this is going on but we’ve never been able to confirm it,” Detective Sgt. Jay Munson said Monday.
After going to Craigslist or similar sites, “we started making phone calls and making appointments,” set up for between 10 p.m. Thursday and 1 a.m. Friday, Munson said.
“We ordered up five girls” but during the process “we were able to order a sixth girl. Three of them came from Cinnamon’s Sweets.”
The women showed up one or two at a time to meet with an undercover officer who had purportedly hired them as escorts or to perform private exotic dances.
Two of the women who advertised on Craigslist and worked for Cinnamon’s Sweets charged the undercover officer $175 each to show up, plus a $100-apiece tip, police said. Soon after the women arrived, however, the negotiations for additional “services” began, Munson said.
“The price haggling started with $150 to $200 for the girls to have sex together, and [with an additional] $100 apiece the undercover [officer] could do whatever he wanted,” the detective said. “There were some exceptions. Each girl had things they wouldn’t do.
“Through our investigation, we were quoted prices anywhere between $200 and $1,000,” Munson said.
The deals were captured on hidden audio and video cameras set up in the motel room.
Charged at the motel room that night were: Aimee Bernard, 19, Amanda Shaw, 29, Jolena Glidden, 25, Coleen Singer, 26, all of Bangor; Kimberly Oakley, 28, of Brewer; and Alicia Gray, 23, of Kenduskeag. Bernard, who also was charged with possession of prescription pills, and Oakley, who was wanted on an outstanding warrant for failing to pay a fine, were arrested and taken to Penobscot County Jail, Munson said. They were later released, a jail official said.
Bernard, Shaw and Glidden reportedly worked for Cinnamon’s Sweets, and Powers-Jenkins is the madam of the decade-old escort service, Munson said.
“She would require the $175 fee [ahead of time] and it could be run through a credit card [machine] with a service charge” added, Munson said. “But the girls would need to be paid in cash. She would then meet up with them and divide what was collected.”
As a result of the Thursday night operation, Powers-Jenkins’ Orland home was searched at around 6:45 p.m. Friday and she, too, was charged with promotion of prostitution.
“We found ledgers or appointment books with names of clients — customers — employees and contact information for both,” Munson said.
Credit card slips and documents of sales also were collected from the home, he said. Powers-Jenkins on Monday declined comment on the case.
At least one of those arrested has a prior prostitution arrest, Munson said. Alicia Gray was convicted of prostitution last year in Bangor and in March 2008 was sentenced to pay a $500 fine, he said.
The recent investigation revealed that “some [of those arrested] had been doing it for, like, 10 years,” Munson said.
Other escorts and their customers may also face charges, he said.
“One person who just got done [and] who saved $10,000 for three months of work” may face fraud charges, Munson said, because she reportedly just got a new roof for her home, paid for by federal funds due to her inability to work.
“She’s indigent,” he said. “Those are things we’ll look into.”
Munson said police would also be following up on the client lists and interviewing suspected customers.
“If they want to call me before I call them” that would prevent “me calling their home and getting their wife,” Munson said Monday.
The prostitution sting was not the first that local police have been involved in.
During an elaborate undercover operation a decade ago, six Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department deputies posing as out-of-state hunters brought prostitution charges against two women who allegedly engaged in oral sex with one another for a fee.
Those charges were later dismissed by District Court Judge Ronald Russell, who said in his five-page statement that live sex shows performed for money in private quarters are legal under Maine law.
In that case “neither woman nor their security guard ever attempted or offered to engage in a sexual act or sexual contact with the undercover officers,” according to an April 1997 Bangor Daily News article.
The acts that happened on Thursday and early Friday were “a blatant violation” of the state’s prostitution and public indecency law, Brewer police Capt. Jason Moffitt said Monday.
The prostitution law states: “A person is guilty of promotion of prostitution if he knowingly promotes prostitution,” while “prostitution means engaging in, or agreeing to engage in, or offering to engage in a sexual act or sexual contact in return for a pecuniary benefit to be received by the person engaging in prostitution or a third person.”
“Promotion is much broader,” Moffitt said.
Agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Administration, Maine State Police and deputies from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department assisted with the investigation, which began about a month ago.
“We were looking into online advertisements” for escort services and came across Craigslist, Munson said.
Craigslist is a free online classified ad site set up for people to sell items and to network. The site includes a warning and disclaimer, advising users to bring the company’s attention to prohibited entries such as solicitation for prostitution.
On Saturday, a Biddeford woman also was arrested and charged with misdemeanor prostitution after undercover police, using Craigslist, met her at a Kittery hotel and reached an understanding that there would be sex.
BDN columnist Renee Ordway wrote last November about an agreement between prosecutors and Craigslist.com to rein in sex ads posted under “erotic services.” Cinnamon, aka Powers-Jenkins, was interviewed.
In the column, she assured Ordway that “she’s aware that some may think her business is a bit questionable, but that ‘there is absolutely no prostitution’ going on. She simply hires out girls to perform exotic dancing in private settings.”
Three Cinnamon’s Sweets listings were available on Craigslist early Monday, but by midafternoon they had been taken off the site. All three listings plainly stated, “I book exclusively through Cinnamon’s Sweets in Bangor.”
One of the erotic services listings that was removed was for Cinnamon and included a photo of a topless woman holding balloons. Brewer police confirmed the picture was of Powers-Jenkins.
“Come see me or one of my other lovely ladies at Cinnamon’s Sweets in Bangor,” the posting stated.
Another listing was for a woman who went by the alias “Carmen,” which featured a topless woman in a shower.
“The girls of Cinnamon’s Sweets are always freshly showered, we expect our clients to do the same,” the site stated.
Those with information about the investigation or Cinnamon’s Sweets may contact Detective Sgt. Jay Munson at 989-7001.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.