KENNEBUNK, Maine — News that a Zumba fitness studio used by locals for their fitness regimen was a front for prostitution drew attention around the world, brought in a flotilla of satellite news trucks and inspired one nearby resident to post a YouTube ode to the dance instructor.
Some of the residents of this New England coastal town were initially amused.
Now many of them just want it all to stop.
“I’m sick of it. This happens all over the country. They make a big deal about it because it’s Kennebunk, but it happens in every city,” said Joe Small, who works at a seafood market about a half mile from the dance studio, which now has a “for lease” sign posted on the plate glass windows.
Located next to Kennebunkport, the summer home of former President George H.W. Bush, this upper-crust town of 10,000 used to be known, if it was at all outside the region, for being home to nice beaches, charming homes and Toms of Maine toothpaste. That is, until it made international headlines when a woman named Alexis Wright was charged this month with engaging in prostitution in her dance studio.
Police said she videotaped many of the encounters without her clients’ knowledge and kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
For locals, the prostitution scandal unfolded in slow motion, with the woman’s business partner being charged over the summer and the first names of accused johns being released a week ago.
The remaining names will trickle out in coming months as the Kennebunk Police Department releases them on its biweekly activity log. The next batch is due to be released Oct. 26, and the process could carry into the new year as police continue to issue summonses, said Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee.
Wright, of nearby Wells, has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts of prostitution and other charges and is keeping a low profile at home with her husband and her young son. Her business partner, insurance agent Mark Strong Sr. of Thomaston, pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor counts. They did not return phone messages Friday.
Around town, people are still talking about “the list” and what other names might be on it.
A lawyer who has seen the list says it contains the names of more than 150 men, some of them prominent. The 21 men who’ve been identified so far include a former mayor in southern Maine and the local high school ice hockey coach, who abruptly informed the town he wouldn’t be renewing his contract.
Initially, residents were inclined to shrug it off. Some even joined in a chuckle. Cam Groves, a rapper with a sense of humor in Wells, got thousands of views of a YouTube video after being inspired by the headlines to create a parody of a lovelorn young man pining for Wright. Groves also was printing “Free Alexis Wright” T-shirts.
But many are wearying of the town’s 15 minutes of fame.
On Friday, autumn-hued leaves were falling from trees, coating the lawns of the stately homes. Along Main Street, pumpkin-themed decorations remained from last weekend’s Harvest Fest, which featured pumpkin-carving, horse and wagon rides, and other wholesome events.
In the town hall, senior citizens engaged in a dance aerobics class, followed by a combination of Pilates and yoga.
Local resident Linda Johnson described Kennebunk as a healthy and spirited town with lots of local events, such as the Harvest Fest, aimed at bringing the community together. Residents are frustrated that all of the trouble was caused by people who don’t even live in town.
“Kennebunk is going to outlive this black eye,” said Linda Johnson, who’s lived here 38 years. “But the repercussions could continue for a while.”