Suspects in Kennebunk prostitution case refusing to speak to police

A Unitarian Universalist church dominates one end of downtown Kennebunk. The coastal town has grown weary of its 15 minutes of fame following the Zumba prostitution scandal.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
A Unitarian Universalist church dominates one end of downtown Kennebunk. The coastal town has grown weary of its 15 minutes of fame following the Zumba prostitution scandal.
Posted Dec. 07, 2012, at 1:55 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 08, 2012, at 9:58 a.m.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — With more and more suspected johns in Kennebunk’s high profile prostitution case refusing to speak to police, the sweep of summonses that began nearly two months ago has slowed to a trickle.

Kennebunk police have been releasing the names of men charged as clients in the case on approximately two-week intervals dating back to Oct. 15. In each of the first three installments, police released the names of between 15 and 21 men charged with engaging a prostitute.

On Nov. 26, police released the names of four men, and then on Friday, another two names.

According to Kennebunk Police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee, that’s because more and more suspected johns are going around the police investigation, and beginning talks directly with prosecutors in the high profile case. That approach can be taken to help dim the spotlights on their alleged crimes by keeping their names out of the regular police blotters.

“Many suspects have retained counsel and have, therefore, canceled previously scheduled interviews with investigators,” Kennebunk Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee told Maine media outlets Friday. “Many attorneys have indicated they plan to speak with York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, who is handling the prosecution of these cases, prior to making a final decision on how best to proceed with cases against their clients.

“This may include the process of pleading ‘guilty by information’ directly with DDA McGettigan and handling the matter sooner in court rather than having clients receive a criminal summons with a formal criminal charge and a subsequent later court date,” he continued.

Thus far, 64 men have been charged with engaging a prostitute in the case, with seven having already pleaded guilty or no contest. Two guilty pleas and one no contest plea were entered in person by alleged clients in the case Wednesday in Biddeford District Court.

Four guilty pleas were entered in previous weeks through the “guilty by information” process Lt. Bean Burpee described.

Another 19 men charged as clients in the case have entered not guilty pleas in writing through their attorneys, avoiding in-person court appearances.

The names of the two men released Friday are Jay P. Sanborn, 46, of Springvale and Ricky J. Dewitt, 49, of Lyman.

Investigators allege that 29-year-old Alexis Wright of Wells ran a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk fitness studio alongside businessman Mark Strong, 57, of Thomaston. Police have said Wright kept meticulous records of the operation, including a list of nearly 150 names of clients, which in southern Maine has become popularly referred to as “The List.”

That list has not been made public, but Strong’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, suggested early in the case that it contained the names of several high profile individuals. Alleged johns are only being named publicly as they are officially charged with engaging a prostitute, a rolling process that has taken place over nearly two months thus far and is on pace to continue into early 2013.

Thus far, the list of men previously 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.

Hill, Soule and Bergens have entered pleas of not guilty, while Lewis and Ferreira have yet to reach their scheduled arraignment dates.

Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee has said his detectives are combing through massive amounts of evidence collected in the case, and are charging men as clients of the alleged operation as they gather enough incriminating evidence to do so. The names of those charged over each two-week span are then released to the public through the department’s regular biweekly arrest blotter, which also includes the names of people charged with unrelated crimes over the same period.

Both Wright and Strong have pleaded not guilty to a slate of crimes tied to the case.

Prosecutors from the York County District Attorney’s office are urging Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills to rejoin the cases against Strong and Wright after the judge previously agreed to requests by both suspects to separate the two.

Mills gave prosecutors until midday Thursday to enter evidence supporting their motion to rejoin the cases, saying in her order that the evidence in question would remain under seal — blocked from public view — until further notice. Mills also gave the defense attorneys until 10 a.m. Monday to file any opposition to the state’s evidence or request another conference on the topic.

In the parallel cases against accused johns in the case, another group of at least 15 alleged clients are due for arraignments — at which they will be asked to enter pleas of guilty, not guilty or no contest — on Dec. 19.

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