Release of next list of alleged johns in Zumba prostitution case delayed; sparse information fuels rumor mill
KENNEBUNK, Maine — The public’s appetite for information about the ongoing Kennebunk prostitution case will likely go unquenched this Thanksgiving week, as the semi-regular release of the names of men charged as johns will be delayed from Friday until Monday.
Add the news that a Biddeford District Court judge has decided to keep two key affidavits out of the public view, and followers of the sensational case — which has garnered coverage from around the globe, and already has included courtroom reprimands and allegations of police retaliation — are finding themselves at least temporarily in the dark.
Investigators have alleged that 29-year-old Alexis Wright, who is accused of running a prostitution business with 54-year-old Mark Strong out of her Kennebunk fitness studio, kept a meticulous list of approximately 150 clients. But Kennebunk police have been releasing the names of men charged with engaging a prostitute in biweekly installments of between 15 and 21 people.
Kennebunk Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee has said that investigators are sifting through massive amounts of evidence in the case and are incrementally charging the alleged clients along the way as they assemble enough incriminating documentation. The department releases a biweekly blotter, and all the men charged in the prostitution case are included in that public update, along with any other individuals arrested in the two-week period.
Thus far, the names of 58 men charged with engaging a prostitute have been released, including four who entered guilty pleas pre-emptive of the police department’s regular cycle of releases.
Both Wright and Strong have pleaded not guilty to a slate of charges stemming from the alleged operation.
The next biweekly police blotter normally would fall on Friday, but Lt. Burpee said that because of the shortened holiday work week, he will release the next list on Monday.
The trickle of information — plus comments made early in the process by Strong attorney Daniel Lilley that prominent men, including a local television personality, are on the alleged client list — has fueled wide speculation about who will be implicated in the high-profile case.
Thus far, the list of men charged includes former South Portland Mayor James Soule, former Kennebunk High School hockey coach Donald Hill, local lawyer Jens Bergens, former Portland Planning Board Chairman Joe Lewis, and former Church of the Nazarene Pastor James Andrew Ferreira.
But others who have not been charged, most notably longtime Portland TV weatherman Joe Cupo, have been forced to react to widely circulated rumors of their involvement, lamenting that the slow release of names of alleged johns allows hearsay to simmer unchecked.
In an interview aired on local NBC affiliate WCSH 6 earlier this month, Cupo, who has been with the station since 1979, said he wanted to “clear the air” and assert that he’s not on what’s become known in southern Maine as “The List” rather than let rumors fester until the final ledger of names is released — at this rate — sometime in early 2013.
“The fact that it’s going to take so long for all these names to come out … this rumor’s going to be going on and on and on,” said Cupo, who added that his wife had been regularly approached in her workplace by people “thinking that I’m guilty.”
Also, the Portland Press Herald reported Tuesday night that Biddeford District Court Judge Christine Foster has ruled against the newspaper’s motion to make public the two affidavits filed by police to secure search warrants in the ongoing investigation.
The affidavits are sworn statements filed with the court, in this case, by police about what they hoped to find when executing their proposed search warrants and how those discoveries would be important for their case.
Previous affidavits in the case have been unsealed by the court — including papers earlier this month revealing that police were seeking information about pornography allegedly featuring Wright, and that they found a “domination fetish sheet,” among other things, in their searches — but two such documents remain under lock and key after Foster’s most recent ruling.
Debate over the status of the affidavits is not the only legal wrangling still going on in the sprawling court drama. Prosecutors in the case are asking Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Nancy Mills to reconsider her ruling to allow separate trials for Wright and Strong, which attorneys for both individuals had requested.
The York County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, has argued in a court filing that a combined trial for both Wright and Strong would not deprive either of speedy trials, as Strong’s attorney argued in his request for the split, and that nearly all charges against the two individuals are interrelated.
Mills has yet to rule on the prosecution’s motion. Under the current schedule, Strong would go on trial in January, while Wright would go on trial in May.