Kennebunk, a town of approximately 5,000 residents, is located near the Atlantic coast in southeastern Maine. The city is not known for substantial street prostitution, but there have been complaints and reports of indoor prostitution.
A recent case has involved an effort to address the customers of prostitution, but not through traditional reverse stings. Instead, police have leveraged a client list for a prostitution business operating out of three studio storefronts in the town. In September 2012, a takedown of the studios, after an investigation of several months, uncovered a client list with over 100 individuals identified. While it is not unusual to discover client lists in raided brothels, the lists often are not used by law enforcement since they alone do not constitute sufficient evidence that sex exchanged directly for money actually occurred. For example, in an investigation of a very high-volume brothel in the Spokane, Washington, area, a “client list” containing 1,200 names was discovered, but police did not take any action against the men listed. In the Kennebunk “Zumba Studio” case, the list was reportedly supplemented by videotapes and still shots that recorded many of the sexual encounters.
Police prepared to charge the men on the list with soliciting prostitution and began to issue summons in early October 2012. On October 15, the district court released to the public a list of 21 names of men who were all summoned to appear in court on December 5, 2012. The list was the first part of a list that contained between 100 and 150 names, according to news reports. The remaining names were to be released in batches over subsequent months. Through mid-April 2013, 60 of the men’s names had been released; the flow of court appearances and release of names delayed while the courts prosecuted the two main defendants in operating the dance studio-based prostitution operation.
In late October 2013, it was reported that the cases were drawing to a close. Prosecutors anticipated no further charges because judges ruled that the woman at the heart of the scandal, Alexis Wright, cannot be forced to testify. While as many as 100 to 150 names were on a ledger and clients were videotaped without their knowledge, charges were brought against just 68 people accused of being clients. There had been 61 convictions and one acquittal. Charges were dropped in one case. Wright pleaded guilty and was released from jail by the end of 2013.
We know of a few other cases where client lists have been used to arrest johns. In Vero Beach, Florida, a brothel was investigated in 2008 and 35 johns were arrested after being identified through evidence acquired through surveillance in addition to brothel records and other sources of intelligence. In 2004, a list of men was discovered during a prostitution investigation of a massage parlor in Odessa, Texas. The client list was publicly disclosed and 68 men were arrested.
A recent case in Lawrence, Massachusetts has the potential to follow a similar path. In June 2013, a brothel in the city was investigated and the pimp was arrested. The case involved the discovery of a client list reported to contain between 1,000 and 2,000 names. As of June, police were still trying to match names on the list with known persons, and then work with the courts to determine what action – if any – will be taken to pursue the sex buyers.
In some communities, “client lists” from illegal brothels are obtained (e.g., Petaluma, CA), but police make no attempt to take action against the men on the lists.
- Kennebunk Police Department
- Cumberland County Superior Court
- Use of Client List to Pursue Sex Buyers, with Shaming:
- “Clients on Alleged Kennebunk Prostitution List Likely to Be Charged,” Portland Press Herald, September 28 2012.
- “Police to Begin Charging ‘Johns’ in Kennebunk Prostitution Case; Police Say They Will Begin Issuing Summonses Now That Indictments Are Complete,” Portland Press Herald, October 4 2012.
- “Police: Alleged Clients in Prostitution Case Could Be Charged Next Week,” Portsmouth Herald, October 5 2012.
- “Court Asked to Halt Release of Alleged ‘Johns’ in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Portland Press Herald, October 11 2012.
- “Judge Rejects Request to Seal the Names of Alleged ‘Johns’ in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Bangor Daily News, October 12 2012.
- “Public Shaming of Prostitution Clients a Growing Trend, Can Harm Families,” Huffington Post, October 14 2012.
- “Kennebunk Police Release Names of 21 Suspected ‘Johns’; The Portland Press Herald Will Not Publish the List Until the Identities of the Men Have Been Verified,” Portland Press Herald, October 15 2012.
- “Police Name 21 Alleged Kennebunk ‘Johns,’ But Confusion Follows,” Kennebec Journal, October 15 2012.
- “Kennebunk PD Releases Alleged Prostitution Client List,” NBC/WCSH-TV 6, October 16 2012.
- “Opinion: In Naming Alleged Sex Clients, Maine Police Are Only Being Fair,” Boston Globe, October 17 2012.
- “18 More Men, Including Former Portland Planning Board Chairman, Charged as Johns in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Bangor Daily News, October 26 2012.
- “Another List of Alleged Johns in Kennebunk Prostitution Case Expected Friday,” Bangor Daily News, October 26 2012.
- “18 More Men Charged as Alleged Johns,” Portsmouth Herald, November 1 2012.
- “15 More Charged as Johns in Zumba Prostitution Case,” Portsmouth Herald, November 10 2012.
- “2 Men Plead Guilty, 1 Pleads No Contest in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Bangor Daily News, December 5 2012.
- “Two Names Added to List of ‘Johns’ in Dance Studio Prostitution Case,” Rockland Courier-Gazette, December 8 2012.
- “2 More Men Plead Guilty in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Portland Press Herald, December 19 2012.
- “Names of More Alleged Johns in Kennebunk Prostitution Case Could Be Released Today,” Bangor Daily News, December 21 2012.
- “Two More Johns Fined in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Portsmouth Herald, December 29 2012.
- “Two More Men Plead Guilty in Kennebunk Prostitution Case,” Portland Press Herald, December 31 2012.
- “Sex, Lists, and Videotape,” Boston Magazine, January 2013.
- “18 Men Who Pleaded Guilty Make Kennebunk Prostitution Witness List,” Portland Press Herald, January 17 2013.
- “Police Eye 40 More Zumba Hooker Clients,” Boston Herald, April 14 2013.
- “‘It Was a Dark World’: Lead Investigator Recalls Depth of Kennebunk Zumba Prostitution Case,” Bangor Daily News, January 13 2014.
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Police Targeting Kennebunk Prostitution Ring,” Portland Press Herald, October 4 2012.
- “Records Reveal Details of Alleged Kennebunk Prostitution Ring,” Portsmouth Herald, October 4 2012.
- “Strong’s Lawyers Move to Reverse Kennebunk Zumba Prostitution Verdicts,” Bangor Daily News, March 18 2013.
- “US Zumba Teacher in Prostitution Bust Leaves Jail,” Associated Press Worldstream, November 23 2013.
- “Prostitution Scandal Draws to Close in Maine,” Associated Press Online, March 18 2014.