Kennebunk, ME

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

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.

 

Key Partners

  • Kennebunk Police Department
  • Cumberland County Superior Court

Key Sources

State Maine
Type City
Population 5214
Location
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