AUGUSTA — State police seized five used condoms from the kitchen trash; sex and drug paraphernalia from a bedroom and bathroom; cellphones of three women; and a list of work hours, names and numbers when they used a warrant to search a Litchfield home last week.
That information is contained in documents filed Tuesday in Augusta District Court about an investigation into an alleged prostitution ring that started in Augusta almost two years ago.
In an affidavit seeking to obtain a warrant to search the 1177 Lewiston Road home of Gretchen Patrick for evidence of prostitution, Detective Christopher Tupper said he learned last month that Augusta police had been investigating an escort service known as “Sarah’s” or “Sarah’s Place” starting in 2012 until it allegedly moved out of the city and into Litchfield recently.
So Tupper used materials gathered by state and Augusta police to also obtain a search warrant for 79 Purinton Ave., Augusta, a home belonging to David Bustin Jr. and allegedly occupied by Bustin and Patrick.
The searches took place April 10.
Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, whose office has charged Patrick with one count of misdemeanor sex trafficking, said Bustin, 54, has not been charged with anything and there is no indication he is involved.
At the Purinton Avenue house, police seized a computer, paperwork, four phones, $418 in cash and a box of condoms. Court documents allege that the prostitution took place at a different location in the city, an apartment at 120 Northern Ave.
They were looking for business records that “may pertain to the advertising of sexual acts, escort services, and/or that pertain to the actual financial transaction between prostitute and john for the performance of a sexual act,” according to Tupper’s affidavit.
They also sought a DNA sample from Patrick, 51, of Augusta.
At one point, investigators met with a person who claimed to have worked for Patrick starting at age 17. The person responded to an ad seeking adult entertainment and claimed to have met Patrick at a city park on Bangor Street. The same person also named four current and past alleged employees of Patrick, and said work hours were from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The informant “stated the girls are instructed not to do anything until the men touch them first,” according to an affidavit by Augusta police Sgt. Jason Cote.
The informant told police Patrick kept a log book with the name of the woman, the man, the dollar amount and the time, and that a lock box containing money was kept under the sink at an apartment at 120 Northern Ave.
“The allegation that a 17-year old was involved is what gave me an enormous amount of concern and caused me to think we needed to act quickly,” Maloney said. She said the state is alleging that Patrick is head of the organization and that the charge could be changed later to a felony if certain aggravating factors are present.
Those factors include having a prostitute who is less than 18 years old, requiring someone to work as a prostitute to pay off a debt, or using coercion and threats to force someone to work as a prostitute.
Maloney said on Tuesday she does not have all the police reports needed to determine whether to elevating the charge.
The search warrant and affidavit were obtained Tuesday from Augusta District Court after Judge Valerie Stanfill denied Maloney’s request “to impound the names of the women suspected of engaging in prostitution … as the state is concerned that disclosure of these names will lead to harassment and witness tampering and harm the ongoing investigation.”
The Augusta investigation was triggered by an anonymous tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that a brothel was being run by Patrick at 120 Northern Ave.
Police later determined that the complainant was a woman who formerly worked for Patrick and who claimed Patrick used underage girls as prostitutes. The girls were identified as “Bella, Carrie, and Erica.”
According to Cote’s affidavit, police set up surveillance in that area in July 2012 and saw men leaving that address but could not determine the exact apartment.
One man reportedly left 120 Northern Ave. and got into a vehicle registered to a Parsonsfield couple. Officers also reported seeing men drive slowly past the address but continue on once the surveillance car was seen.
Patrick herself came out of the building and talked to the officers, who were in plain clothes, and asked them whether they were lost. They officers told her they were waiting for a real estate agent to show them a house for sale across the street.
In September 2012, a Bangor Street woman told police and an FBI agent that she was a prostitute who formerly worked for Patrick and now directly competed with Patrick for business.
She accused Patrick of stealing her GPS and destroying her car. The woman told police Patrick’s clients came from in and out of state.
An anonymous tipster via the Maine State Police on Sept. 16, 2013, reported that Patrick had been running a prostitution ring daily for more than two years and that nothing had been done about it.
The tipster said “neighbors are tired of this activity as they cannot sit in their own yards or porches without Johns coming and going from morning until night” and upset that the traffic takes up residents’ parking spaces.
The person said 20 men go in and out in a day, “sometimes a new one every 15 minutes after another one leaves.”
A neighbor from within the apartment building complained to police as well, saying “johns” knock on her door and peer in her window, seeking the correct apartment.
Other surveillance followed in which police checked registration plates of vehicles from which lone male drivers went into 120 Northern Ave.
They identified men from Farmington, Lewiston, Litchfield, Montville, Sidney and other locations. They also reported seeing Patrick as well as a woman who earlier had reported the theft of $2,000 cash. Police later said they concluded that the woman was one of the prostitutes and her vehicle was broken into while it was parked at 120 Northern Ave. She had reported the money stolen but said it occurred elsewhere.
State police, working with Augusta police and the FBI, were told Patrick had moved to Lewiston Road in Litchfield. On April 1. they said, they found Patrick’s vehicle parked there, as well as that of a Madison man.
Using a subpoena for Internet records, they also traced ads on a classified advertising website on Backpage to Bustin’s address.
The ads feature “Sarah’s” and “Sarah’s Place” offering “prettiest girls in the Central Maine area,” “unhurried and unforgettable adult entertainment” as well as a help-wanted ad. One of the ads shows photos of clothed women, but their faces are cropped out.
Patrick is scheduled to appear on the sex trafficking charge in July in Augusta District Court. She was not arrested. Maine statute defines sex trafficking as “promoting prostitution.”