KENNEBUNK, Maine — The alleged johns aren’t the only ones who don’t want their names associated with the prostitution business authorities say was run out of a Kennebunk fitness studio. Numerous Kennebunk residents, business owners and workers shook their heads, rolled their eyes or otherwise passed on an opportunity to comment on the case Monday.
“Some people feel that any attention is good attention and any press is good press,” said Jeff Pratt, 35, who said he has worked in Kennebunk for years. “But I think there’s going to be a lot of people who are shamed and a lot … of kids in the schools getting [picked] on because their dads are on that list. People are probably going to lose their jobs over it. People are probably going to be ridiculed and shamed because of it. And divorce? It goes without saying, I guess.”
Media scrutiny of the case, in which a Thomaston businessman and Kennebunk fitness instructor have been indicted in connection with a prostitution operation, has gone nationwide in recent weeks with speculation rampant over which high-profile men may appear on a reported client list.
On Monday, after significant legal wrangling, the first 21 names of those who have been charged with paying for sex at the Zumba fitness studio were released by Kennebunk police.
On the streets and in the shops of downtown Kennebunk around lunchtime and early afternoon Monday, prior to the partial list being released, Pratt was one of few willing to weigh in on the record. At least eight others said they did not want their names — or the names of their businesses — in a story about the alleged prostitution activity, regardless of the context.
“We don’t want to be a part of that,” one woman behind the counter of an eatery said.
“That’s just bad press,” a man at another establishment said.
“It’s just tired,” said a third man with a sigh.
Some who were approached Monday by a Bangor Daily News reporter said they had been approached by reporters from national media outlets such as CNN and NBC, and said that shaking off interview requests — which began trickling in after the arrest of Thomaston businessman Mark Strong in July — has become exhausting.
Strong’s attorney on Monday said the case already has been damaging to his client and he wants the alleged clients’ names unveiled.
Fitness instructor Alexis Wright is accused of partnering with Strong in the prostitution venture.
“I think it’s unfortunate that any of this took place,” said Jeffrey Schuhmacher, 37, who works in Kennebunk. “It’s certainly going to be difficult for all of the families involved to face this, but I think these are family matters that need to be addressed.”
Schuhmacher said delays in the release of the alleged client list are only making matters worse for people in Kennebunk who are waiting for the frenzy to calm down.
“As far as the public information goes, every minute that goes by that this list is not released makes it far more suspect for everyone nationwide who’s now watching this case to believe that there’s not some sort of organized cover-up,” he said. “I think, frankly, they need to release the information, get it out into the open, deal with the issues that need to be addressed and move on.”