PORTLAND, Maine — A Saco man who recently was charged with being a prostitute’s agent in a high-profile sting in which 10 other individuals were accused of either selling sex or buying it said he never has taken part in the illegal business.
Eric Mayo, 25, of Saco is being held at Cumberland County Jail on charges of promoting prostitution and violating his probation. In an interview with the Bangor Daily News at the jail last week, Mayo said he accompanied his wife, 26-year-old Samantha Pecoraro of Yarmouth, to a Freeport hotel, where she had been hired as a private dancer.
Mayo said private dancers often hire male associates to come with them to jobs and serve as “bouncers,” offering a deterrent to clients who may try to assault or rob the women.
“I accompanied her there and the rest is basically history,” Mayo said. “I sat down to get something to eat, and then detectives started showing up. When they came to arrest me, I was like, ‘For what?’”
Police answered that question and also charged Pecoraro with engaging in prostitution. Efforts to reach Pecoraro were unsuccessful.
Capt. Donald Goulet of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said police believe Mayo played a role in the southern Maine prostitution scene beyond being an occasional bodyguard.
“I’ll just say that I’m very comfortable and confident the charges against him will be upheld in court,” Goulet said. “The evidence will support that.”
In addition to Pecoraro, three other women were charged with prostitution and seven men were charged with engaging a prostitute in the sting, which was conducted by the sheriff’s office in conjunction with police departments in Brunswick, Bridgton and Yarmouth. The women were arrested after investigators allegedly set up meetings with them through websites Craigslist and backpage.com, where they reportedly advertised escort services.
The law enforcement agencies announced the arrests in a press conference held on Aug. 18. The suspects are due to be arraigned on Oct. 12.
“By us doing this, I’m sure [the word is out that] the cops are watching,” Goulet said. “If that’s a deterrent in and of itself, I’m OK with it.”
Goulet said prostitution is dangerous because it creates an environment where other crimes can thrive, such as theft, assault, robbery, rape and even murder. Both prostitutes and those hiring them can be vulnerable to the associated crimes, he said, and the practice can destroy families.
But Mayo said it wasn’t a practice he had a part in.
“I’ve never bought a prostitute and I’ve never promoted prostitution,” Mayo said. “It turns my stomach to think of a woman degrading herself in that way.”
Mayo said he and his family members are “embarrassed” by the accusation he was working as a pimp. He said he never spoke to the man who hired Pecoraro for the private dance, and said his wife, from whom he’s amicably separated, has “never been involved in any agreement to have sex for money.”
“It’s not true,” he said. “I deny any allegations of setting anything up for her. A lot of escort services or private dancers, they’ll hire a bouncer to go with them. It’s a case of safety in numbers. I didn’t think anything of it. I still don’t think she engaged in any prostitution.”
Mayo said he was on probation for an assault charge dating back to 2008, and has spent the last “seven or eight months” trying to turn his life around, working a job in sales.
“I’ve just been working and going to counseling,” he said. “Things had been going well. I have great people in my life today — people who care about me and people I care about. People who want to see me succeed, just like I want to succeed. I know this [case] has let some people down.
“This has been a horrible ordeal,” Mayo continued. “Had I thought at any time [that accompanying Pecoraro] had anything to do with prostitution or even breaking the law, I wouldn’t have taken part.”
Goulet said the 11 arrests made as part of the recent sting did not necessarily indicate that the prostitution business is booming. He said the proverbial oldest known profession has remained a constant over the years, but now, it has taken new forms due in large part to the Internet.
“I don’t think it’s any more widespread, but it’s more underground,” he said. “If you go back 20 years in the cities of Lewiston and Portland, we had what we called ‘street walkers’ and areas of town where police — and people trying to engage in that type of activity — knew where to go to find that sort of thing. Now they can do it all from the creature comforts of their homes, or even from their cars using [smartphones].
“Are more people involved because it’s easier? I don’t know,” Goulet continued. “My impression is that more people are willing to try, either johns or the prostitutes.”
Goulet also said people who are arrested for prostitution no longer fit the stereotype of the “street walkers” often seen on television.
“It can be a lucrative side job that’s tax free,” he said. “One of the prostitutes was a nurse. Some of them are well-educated. They’re not what people would think of back in the day.”