KENNEBUNK, Maine — Most years at this time, when the tourists have left and the snowbirds are not far behind, this quaint coastal town begins to wind down for the winter.
But this fall, the pleasant, proper village down the road from the Bush family compound in neighboring Kennebunkport has been gripped in scandal. A scandal, shall we say, of prurient interest.
A scandal, if you must, involving a fitness instructor who is charged with running a prostitution operation from her studio. And a list, which in recent gossip-fueled days has taken on near-mythic status as “the list” of the Zumba teacher’s extensive clientele.
“This is a very small town after the season,” said Elaine Nicholson, 54. “Except this year. This year, everybody’s buzzing.”
The instructor, Alexis Wright, 29, pleaded not guilty this week to more than 100 counts of prostitution, while an accused associate, Mark Strong, pleaded not guilty to helping to run the business.
‘Everyone knows everyone here,so people are definitely talking .’
On Friday, the Police Department, which has been issuing summonses to Wright’s suspected clients, was expected to release some of their names. But after a lawyer for two of the men on the list filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, police declined to make the names public.
The appeal sought an expedited hearing on the appeal. The earliest that can happen is Monday.
Stephen Schwartz, the lawyer for the two men, said they are charged with crimes that are “relatively minor” yet have the “capacity to destroy reputations” if they become public. He lauded the town for proceeding cautiously until the courts can resolve the matter.
Lawyers for Wright and Strong could not be reached for comment. The district attorney’s office prosecuting the case declined comment.
In town, where a sign at the bridge hails the town as “the only village in the world so named,” the list of names and their uncertain fate was front and center.
The list includes some 150 people. While speculation abounds, most residents say they have no idea who might have been stepping out. But that has not stopped the town from guessing or rumors from spreading.
From police officers to politicians to prominent business owners, few have escaped conjecture.
“Everyone knows everyone here, so people are definitely talking,” Paula Keeney said from Mainely Murders, her mystery bookstore, on Bourne Street. “I think a lot of people are shocked this could happen in our little town.”
Keeney, however, is not among them. Kennebunk may be postcard-pretty, with a reserved, respectable quality. But some things, especially the world’s oldest profession, are universal.
“It’s naïve to think bad things don’t happen in idyllic New England towns,” she said. “This could happen anywhere, and probably does.”
Like many, Keeney felt a twinge of guilt over wanting to know the names on the list. But if everyone else knew, she did not want to be left out.
Police learned of the alleged operation after receiving complaints from residents and business owners. Wright, whom residents described as a single mother, allegedly kept a list of clients and secretly videotaped the trysts.
Some residents said rumors about the pretty Zumba instructor were flying long before her arrest, and that even high school students who took her popular workout classes featuring Latin-inspired dance knew.
But others said they were stunned by the allegations.
“I knew her as a bright young woman, a single mom trying to make it,” said Marsie Silvestro, who took one of Wright’s classes. “People who know her are sad about this.”
Silvestro described Wright as a vivacious personality and an excellent Zumba instructor. Silvestro, who works with victims of domestic violence, said she hopes authorities identify all the clients.
Nicholson, who lives just down the street from Wright’s now-closed studio, said she’s amazed by the scandal and the furor it has sparked.
“This is the biggest thing to hit this town in, well, forever,” she said.
While most residents shrugged off the idea that the scandal would hurt the town’s reputation, some felt otherwise.
“This is a conservative town, where people mind their own business,” said one business owner, declining to give his name. “Seeing this on the national news, this is preposterous. It runs against everything Kennebunk is about.”
Still, the older man admitted “I’m as curious as anybody else.”
Some were disgusted by the whole matter. Sitting on an Adirondack chair by the public library, a woman reading the newspaper skipped over an article about the list. Enough already, she said.
“I’m trying to avoid it,” she said.
But Colette Auger, 23, said many people were dissecting every detail of the story and seemingly could not get enough. “It’s all I hear about,” she said.
Auger thought the coverage was a bit much, driven by a faulty perception of the town as entirely wholesome.
“We’re not all innocent and quaint here,” she said, looking both as she walked a golden retriever downtown. “But it gets Kennebunk on the map, I guess.”
Press was included in this
report. Peter Schworm can
be reached at schworm@
globe.com. Follow him on