Names of more alleged johns in Kennebunk prostitution case could be released today

The Pura Vida/Zumba Studio in Kennebunk has been the focus of an investigation by Kennebunk police into suspicious activities, including possible prostitution, that began in September 2011.
Matt Wickenheiser
The Pura Vida/Zumba Studio in Kennebunk has been the focus of an investigation by Kennebunk police into suspicious activities, including possible prostitution, that began in September 2011.
Posted Dec. 21, 2012, at 10:45 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 21, 2012, at 1:55 p.m.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Kennebunk police are scheduled to release their latest biweekly arrest blotter Friday, and past installments have included the names of men charged with paying for sex in the town’s ever-growing prostitution case.

In recent weeks, the number of alleged johns on the regular blotters has slowed to a trickle, however, as many men suspected of engaging a prostitute have begun refusing to speak to investigators.

Starting on Oct. 15, the first three biweekly lists of arrests and summonses included the names of between 15 and 21 alleged clients of the suspected prostitution operation, but the most recent two blotters featured the names of only six such men combined.

To avoid the heavy media spotlight, many alleged johns are skipping the initial police procedures — which include interviews with detectives and often result in the issuance of a summons — and instructing their lawyers to work deals out directly with prosecutors from the York County District Attorney’s office, Kennebunk Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee has said.

The legal maneuvering has allowed the men to avoid appearing on the biweekly arrest lists, Bean Burpee said, although their names do become public if they ultimately enter pleas directly through the court system.

At least four men have pleaded “guilty by information,” in accordance to the process conducted through the district attorney’s office and described by Bean Burpee.

Thus far, 64 men have been charged with engaging a prostitute in the case, with at least nine already having pleaded guilty or no contest. Another man — Derek Chapman, 32, of Portland — skipped his initial court appearance this week, at which he would have been asked to enter a plea, and the court reportedly issued a warrant for his arrest.

Another 32 men charged as clients in the case have entered not guilty pleas in writing through their attorneys, avoiding in-person court appearances. The remainder have yet to reach their arraignment dates.

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.

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 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. Strong is facing a January trial, while Wright is not scheduled to go on trial until May.

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