By Clarke Canfield Associated Press
KENNEBUNK, Maine — Paul Main’s quiet evening was shattered by a phone ringing off the hook and a half-dozen TV crews showing up on his porch. Everyone wanted to know: Was he the same Paul Main who’s been accused of visiting a prostitute in Kennebunk?
The answer was no. But a decision to release the names of alleged prostitution clients without any ages or addresses has caused big problems for men who have the same names as the accused.
For weeks, rumors about a prostitution business have run rampant in this small New England town best known for its proximity to the Bush family summer compound in neighboring Kennebunkport.
Authorities on Monday released the first batch of names out of more than 150 men accused of paying a fitness instructor for sex.
“I don’t have a problem with releasing names. I think it’s a wonderful thing, but I’ll be darned if it’s right to do it in a shoddy manner,” said Main, a retired spokesman and head of the detective division for the York County Sheriff’s Department.
The addresses, ages and other identifying information of the johns were withheld after a judge ruled that state law required them to be kept confidential because the alleged sexual encounters may have been videotaped, making the men potential victims of privacy invasion.
The names on the list match with an attorney, a businessman and a former elected official in southern Maine. But unlike records typically released by police or courts, the lack of addresses and dates of birth made it impossible to verify exactly who is among the accused.
The Associated Press declined to distribute the names until the suspects’ precise identities could be confirmed. None of those who have matching names returned calls.
But many media outlets released the list, causing problems for men like Main, whose name is shared by at least 20 others in Maine alone.
The town had been awaiting the release of the list since 29-year-old Alexis Wright was charged this month with engaging in prostitution in her dance studio and in an office across the street and secretly videotaping many of her encounters. Police said she kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
Wright, from nearby Wells, has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts of prostitution and other charges. Her business partner also pleaded not guilty to 59 counts.
Police released the first 21 names Monday evening. The list was later revised to include the men’s middle initials. Main’s middle initial was different from the Paul Main who was listed.
Stephen Schwartz, a Portland lawyer who represents two of Wright’s alleged customers, argued that the names and addresses of the alleged johns should be kept private.
Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren declined to keep the names secret but agreed with Schwartz’s contention that if persons charged with paying a prostitute are also alleged victims of invasion of privacy, then their addresses should be confidential under Maine law.
In southern Maine, two TV stations, one daily newspaper and a weekly newspaper published the list. Several others, including newspapers in Maine’s three largest cities, withheld the names.
Warren’s decision to release names without key information “creates confusion and can damage the reputations of innocent individuals with similar names,” said Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of The Portland Press Herald. “We will publish the names only when their identities are clearly revealed and verified.”
Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank, said that just because a name becomes public doesn’t mean news organizations have to race to publish it.
“What journalistic purpose is served by publishing the name, and how do you balance that against the harm that may be done to these people, their families, their children?”
Clark said the situation would be different if the name of a public figure appeared.
“If the police chief is on the list, if the school superintendent on the list, I would approach those people directly and try to determine whether their actions are not just a personal moral failure but climb to the level of social, public hypocrisy,” he said.
As for local residents, they’re enduring a storm of media attention that won’t abate anytime soon.
The Kennebunk Police Department is releasing the names of johns who’ve received summons on a bi-weekly activity log, meaning the release of names could continue until the end of the year. The next batch is due to be released Oct. 26.
As a former law enforcement officer, Main said releasing the names helps hold suspects accountable for their misdeeds. But, he added, the judge should modify his decision to protect those whose only connection to the case is having a common name.
“I don’t want to see other people going through the same thing that I’ve been through,” he said.