The names of 21 men accused of participating in a prostitution ring operated out of a Zumba studio in Kennebunk, Maine was released by police on Monday evening. The names were released after a Superior Court judge dismissed the men's defense attorney's motions to block the list from being released.
Stephen Schwartz, a Portland-based defense attorney representing as many as 150 men said to frequent a brothel run by 29-year-old fitness instructor Alexis Wright, filed a new motion on Monday to prevent local police from releasing his clients’ names, but was denied again.
In his court decision, CNN said Justice Thomas Warren wrote, "The principle that court proceedings are public is essential to public confidence. If persons charged with crimes could withhold their identities, the public would not be able to monitor proceedings to observe whether justice has been done and to observe whether certain defendants may have received favored treatment."
Wright, a fitness instructor and the owner of the Pura Vida Zumba fitness studio in the upscale Maine town, is being charged with 106 counts including prostitution, invasion of privacy, and income tax evasion, as well as one count of theft by deception.
Wright’s alleged partner, Mark Strong, a 57-year-old insurance agent and private investigator from Thomaston, has been charged with 59 misdemeanor counts that include violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution, and conspiracy to promote prostitution. Both Wright and Strong have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Prosecutors claim that Wright came under scrutiny after her landlord, Bee Nguyen, began receiving complaints of strange noises coming from Wright’s office. Nguyen then tipped off local police who reportedly seized 14,000 screen shots, and over 100 hours of video of sexual liaisons, which they say Wright had secretly taped.
Police also seized an electronic business ledger that detailed sexual transactions, fees, and an extensive list of clients. According to the ledger, Wright made up to $150,000 from the illicit business over the span of 18 months, reported Time.
The threat that the list of clients would be released has been dangling over the heads of Wright and Strong, as well as all of the anonymous johns, since the case first went to trial.
"I think it's fair to say that she wished the names didn't come out," said Sarah Churchill, the defense attorney representing Wright. "It's been tough. There's been a lot of scrutiny on her. Getting through the day in any sort of normal way has been sort of difficult."
Dan Lilley, the attorney representing Strong, said his client supported the release of the names. "I think the courts in Maine have been quite transparent in these kinds of cases, and it's usually disclosed to the public," said Lilley. "I don't think it should be held back in this case."
Schwartz, who has only identified two of his clients so far, a “John Doe 1” and “John Doe 2,” has argued that releasing the identities of clients would have a tragic impact on their lives.
"Releasing the list has the power to really destroy reputations," Schwartz said last week. "We believe very strongly that their names ought not be released. The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case in which the government, we believe, will have great difficulty proving.”
In affidavits, the two anonymous clients shared their fears about the short- and long-term effects the release of their identities would have on their lives, reported the Journal Tribune.
“I am a disabled person,” wrote John Doe 1. “I am a productive member of society, I have children, and my family and reputation will be irreparably harmed if my name is revealed pursuant to the so-called ‘list.’”
John Doe 2 identified himself as a local business owner, and said he was worried that if potential jurors knew his identity it might prejudice their judgment.
“I don’t think they have good cause to decline to release the records given at this point there is not only no court order preventing their release, but a judge has said the opposite,” said Sigmund Schutz, an attorney who is representing the Maine Press Association, on Monday. “There is no valid legal basis to refuse to release the records.”