AUGUSTA — Twenty-one men have been charged with engaging a prostitute as a result of multi-agency sting conducted at three hotels in Augusta and Waterville over the past six weeks, authorities announced Friday.

Meanwhile, a defense attorney contacted by some of the men questioned the scale of the police operations, since the resulting charges were misdemeanors.

The sting, which was conducted by Augusta and Waterville police and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, concluded Thursday night in Augusta and involved advertisements placed on Internet and social media pages. Authorities in a news release tied the solicitation of prostitution to the “societal epidemic” of human trafficking and sex trafficking.

“We suspected that prostitution was taking place throughout central Maine and highly suspected we would get high number of responses to Internet ads from potential johns,” Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said in an interview Friday. “A lot of people kind of view this as a victimless crime. We don’t. Prostitutes are very alienated and exploited.”

Walter McKee, an Augusta defense attorney who has been contacted by at least two of the men charged in this sting, criticized authorities for releasing the identities of those charged, saying that having “their names published is an overwhelming penalty in and of itself, so that being convicted or having a fine imposed is arguably the lesser of the punishments here.”

McKee also questioned the level of resources authorities devoted to the stings.

“I think there perhaps should be a larger discussion here about the amount of time and money that this operation involved in light of the 21 misdemeanor charges that came out of it,” he said.

Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Ryan Reardon said the operation was conducted by placing ads on the Internet and on social media, and each man went to one of the hotels, which authorities would not identify, expecting to pay for sex. All but one of the men are from Maine, and they range in age from 23 to 71.

“The person they encountered, however, was an employee of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the suspected johns were detained by teams comprised of members of our three agencies,” Reardon said.

Authorities said the sting occurred on three occasions: Aug. 11 in Waterville, Aug. 27 in Augusta and Thursday in Augusta.

Augusta police Chief Robert Gregoire said in the release, “Individuals seeking to patronize prostitutes – and the money they spend – create the market for these crimes and the opportunity for the victimization of many trafficked individuals.”

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney previously has described the distinction between prostitution and sex trafficking charges this way: “With prostitution, a woman is making that decision and is in charge of herself. With sex trafficking, we’re talking about targeting and recruiting vulnerable women and manipulating them to engage in sex. The difference is who is in control, who’s in charge.”

The link between such trafficking and the central Maine cases of engaging a prostitute doesn’t hold up for McKee, the defense attorney.

“I don’t see there were any charges of trafficking. There wouldn’t be, because this is a sting operation,” McKee said. “To be clear: Human trafficking is an issue, but I’m not highly confident that operations like this are the way we perhaps should address that problem.”

Massey said the cooperation among the agencies in cases such as this can lead to other joint ventures because the officers talk and share information about other cases. Maloney consulted with the police agencies before the sting operation, according to the release, as well as with the South Portland Police Department and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office because those agencies have conducted similar operations.

A probable cause affidavit by Kennebec Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Chilton, filed in an Augusta court in support of the arrest of Mark Conley, 61, of Raymond, says he responded to an online ad at 2 p.m. Thursday “by stating he wanted to barter and bring crack cocaine in exchange for a sexual act.”

Chilton said he searched Conley after he walked into the room and was taken into custody, finding what appeared to be crack cocaine. He was arrested on charges of trafficking in crack cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Most of those charged are scheduled for hearings at Waterville District Court or in Augusta at the Capital Judicial Center between Oct. 5 and Nov. 30.

Massey described prostitution as degrading to women.

“It certainly demeans women, and there is absolutely no respect for women from these johns, especially when you hear the requests for sex acts and things they want these prostitutes to do,” Massey said. “It’s a very degrading thing. We certainly do not want it in the community.”

Among those charged Thursday with a class E misdemeanor of engaging a prostitute was Brandon Berry, 27, a West Forks man who’s made headlines as an up-and-coming professional boxer in Maine. He also was charged with violating conditions of release because he had been free on bail in connection with a charge of criminal speeding earlier this year.

In a telephone interview Friday, Berry said police had told him he should not release too many details about what happened, but Berry said he was confident that the charges would be dismissed.

“I can’t tell you what happened. Everything that happened was on video. That’s all I need to have this dismissed easily,” Berry said.

Having his name in the list released by police was misleading, Berry added. He has not hired legal representation and said he does not think it will be necessary to get the charges dropped.

“It is unbelievable my name is on that,” Berry said. “This won’t stick, I don’t believe.”

Here are the other men charged by police with engaging a prostitute, a class E misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine:

William Boardman, 64, of Islesboro; Guy Buck, 63, of Winthrop; Shawn M. Buck, 38, of Clinton; Patrick Cazemajou, 51, of Camden; Mark Conley, 61, of Raymond, who was arrested at the same time on charges of unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs, unlawful furnishing of scheduled drug, unlawful possession of scheduled drug, and sale and use of drug paraphernalia; Rayfield A. Dobbins, 42, of Augusta; Trevor Dunn, 46, of China; Walter Esancy, 54, of Appleton; Dennis Glidden, 57, of Pittsfield; Warren D. Graybill, 50, of Harpswell; Samuel E. Hazelburst, 38, of Troy; Brian McCrea, 55, of Bowdoinham; Paul A. Michaud, 23, of Waterville; William Norwood, 50, of Manchester; James Raber, 71, of Augusta; Troy Shaw, 44, of New Gloucester; Darrell Smith, 42, of Old Town; Lewis Sukeforth, 50, of Searsmont; James Taylor, 58, of Berlin, New Hampshire; and Jacob B. Vega, 26, of Corinna, who also was charged with possession of a scheduled drug.

Staff writer Peter McGuire contributed to this report.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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