December 11, 2012

Three found guilty in Kennebunk prostitution case

A judge fines the men $600 to $1,000 each in a case that has gained international attention.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Three of the men charged with being clients of Alexis Wright in the Kennebunk prostitution case were found guilty Wednesday of engaging a prostitute and were fined for the misdemeanors.

click image to enlarge

Alexis Wright

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Mark Strong Sr.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

A total of seven of the 62 men charged in the investigation of the former Zumba instructor have now been found guilty.

The three who were found guilty Wednesday in Biddeford District Court -- Kenneth Fairbanks, 54, of 177 Ridge Road in Lisbon Falls; Claude Palmer Jr., 47, of 177 Pottle Road in Oxford; and Paul Main, 43, of 153 South St. in Biddeford -- were the first to appear in court.

The others who pleaded guilty in the high-profile case did so through their attorneys, and avoided the waiting cameras in the courtroom.

The media in the courtroom for Wednesday's arraignment nearly equaled the number of defendants and the people who accompanied them. Several television cameras lined the front row, while two photographers and a half-dozen newspaper and radio reporters were also in the room.

Fairbanks pleaded guilty, accepting the fine of $1,000 and a surcharge. He paid the fine and left the building before the cases against the others were called.

Palmer pleaded no contest. Judge Andre Janelle found him guilty and ordered him to pay a fine of $700 plus surcharges. He was given 30 days to pay. Outside the courtroom later, Palmer declined comment.

Main initially pleaded not guilty, but during a recess met with his defense attorney, William Ashe, who negotiated with prosecutors. Main then changed his plea to guilty. He was fined $600, which was $100 less than what a prosecutor had proposed.

Ashe said Main is disabled, living on a fixed income and unable to pay the full amount immediately. The judge gave him until Feb. 1 to make a payment.

Main declined comment outside the courtroom. A woman who accompanied him muttered a string of obscenities at reporters as she left the courthouse.

York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said she recommended larger fines for some of the men -- those who pleaded Wednesday and those who pleaded earlier -- because they were accused of making "multiple visits."

The maximum fine for engaging a prostitute is $1,000.

The first four men to plead guilty to engaging a prostitute did so before their names were released by police. They pleaded guilty in early November, before criminal complaints were issued, by negotiating plea agreements with prosecutors.

Authorities say Wright, 29, of Wells, ran a prostitution ring from her studio in Kennebunk.

She has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.

Her alleged partner in the operation, Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston, has been indicted on 59 misdemeanor charges of promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy to commit those crimes. He also has pleaded not guilty.

The case has drawn international attention, in part because Wright allegedly kept detailed records of more than 150 clients, including some prominent figures. The case has kept many communities on edge as Kennebunk police have released names of alleged "johns" in groups on a biweekly blotter.

Initially, 21 men were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Of those, nine filed requests for jury trials, transferring their cases to York County Superior Court. Nine others hired attorneys who filed not-guilty pleas on their behalf before Wednesday, making the required acknowledgement of the charges so they didn't have to appear in court. The cases against those nine remain in District Court for now.

The next court appearances for the accused are scheduled Dec. 19, Jan. 23 and Feb. 20. Kennebunk police are expected to issue another blotter on Friday, possibly adding names.

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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