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Maine Prostitution Scandal Makes Locals Anxious

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Kennebunk, Maine, is the quintessential small New England town, attracting tourists every year to its beaches and shops. But this fall, it became known for something else: a prostitution scandal. Police publish new lists of alleged patrons every other week, and those who are rumored to be patrons face months of speculation. Maine Public Radio's Patty Wight reports.

PATTY WIGHT, BYLINE: The story broke last summer. The owner of a Zumba fitness dance studio was also allegedly operating a prostitution business. Alexis Wright's studio was just a quarter mile from the heart of downtown Kennebunk, where Perfecto's Caffe is a popular place to catch up with neighbors over a cup of coffee or cappuccino. Carolyn Mills just moved to Kennebunk in May.

CAROLYN MILLS: We just love it here. And it was really a shock to see something like that going on so very close to where we live.

WIGHT: The story exploded to national and international news as police prepared to release the names of Wright's alleged 150 clients. People wondered who in this small town would be named and what it would do to the community. Teresa Andreoli, who meets other moms at Perfecto's every week, says she worried about fallout for families.

TERESA ANDREOLI: It's a child on the bus, especially in the middle school, was what I was most concerned about, the high school too. If their parent was on the list, I thought that they would be ridiculed.

WIGHT: As people are charged, that information becomes public record. Kennebunk police say investigating 150 people takes time, and as they close cases, the names are placed on a crime blotter which is published every other Friday on the department's website.

JESSICA INOUE: Well, I go out of my way not to check it.

WIGHT: Jessica Inoue is another local mom.

INOUE: I think it's sad, you know, like the people that it affects, and I don't want to be a part of it.

WIGHT: Other moms say they don't anticipate the blotters as much as they used to, though they do glance at the names. By now, dozens of men from across southern Maine have been formally charged. While some knew their fates, others, who never expected it, got caught up in the controversy.

LEE GOLDBERG: Actually, the first time I heard it, I had a friend call me and say, hey, everything okay?

WIGHT: Lee Goldberg is sports director for WCSH in Portland. He was also rumored to be one of the alleged prostitution patrons. The speculation started after a defense attorney said the so-called list of alleged clients included a TV personality.

GOLDBERG: Now, we just went from this could be anybody in the world that's 105 or 150 people to about - a pool of about 15 people.

WIGHT: Another Portland anchor was so besieged that he did an interview on his station about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NEWS CENTER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Recently, a rumor that News Center meteorologist Joe Cupo was on the client list went wild.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Not only are people talking about it and asking about it, but other news outlets have contacted the station asking if Joe has been fired. The rumor is so pervasive it is affecting his personal life. So Joe asked for a moment to refute what he finds to be a hurtful and insulting lie.

WIGHT: Cupo says as the rumor spread, he started to get spooked. He wondered if every person he ran into thought he led a double life. He says things came to a head when it started affecting his wife. People were coming into her shop to offer their condolences.

JOE CUPO: I mean, she came home one night in tears. I knew it was time to do something.

WIGHT: Cupo says Maine viewers seemed to believe him because he was flooded with phone calls and emails of support. Sportscaster Lee Goldberg squashed rumors about him by posting a message on Facebook. Both say things are much better now, but with Kennebunk police predicting that they will be publishing charges well into next year, the rumor mill is likely to continue. For NPR News, I'm Patty Wight.

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