, Newburyport, MA

June 27, 2013

No shortage of victims in this 'victimless crime'

Newburyport Daily News

---- — It’s our region’s own version of “The Client List.”

And it is fueling conversation and speculation at coffee shops, on street corners, across backyard fences.

But this is no made-for-TV drama.

Accused madam Lori Barron of Salem, N.H., faces seven felony charges, ranging from maintaining a house of prostitution and wiretapping to human trafficking.

Much has been made of her list of clients, which Lawrence police Chief John Romero has said numbers between 1,000 and 2,000 names.

Those names may include public officials, schoolteachers, police officers, lawyers and more. Among them is reportedly an Amesbury school teacher.

It’s not the first time Barron has stood accused of prostitution-related charges. Just two years ago, she was convicted of obscene matter and simple assault across the border in Salem, where she ran a similar operation. Her sentence was suspended for good behavior and she paid a $310 fine.

It didn’t take long for Barron to set up shop in Lawrence, where she was running The Day Spa for Gentlemen on Broadway at the time of her arrest. There, police attest, she offered sexual services behind a thin veil of massage therapy.

She appears to be an astute businesswoman. Certainly, she had no trouble posting $30,000 cash bail after her arraignment. She allegedly promised employees they could earn up to $3,000 a week working at the spa.

But the crimes Barron stands accused of are far more serious than what might be suggested by the sniggers and salacious remarks the story has generated.

What information has been released suggests Barron preyed not only on her clients, but also the women in her employ. Those women were paid in cash and allegedly threatened with blackmail if they tried to leave their jobs.

These weren’t trained masseuses, they were women, many of them young mothers, desperate to support themselves and their families. Barron allegedly threatened to report them as unfit mothers if they stepped out of line or tried to quit.

In fact, it was Barron’s alleged assault of an employee who refused to spank a client that opened the sordid doors to police.

These are not charges stemming from a victimless crime.

Prostitution is illegal in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Protestions about its legality in Nevada are irrelevant. Lawrence isn’t Reno.

If these charges prove out, Barron took illegal advantage of some of the area’s most vulnerable women.

She also is charged with secretly videotaping sessions between clients and employees, presumably for her own protection and to their detriment.

When Lawrence police conduct routine prostitution stings, the names of the suspected hookers and their clients are made public — and published in this newspaper.

This list, although reportedly significantly larger and likely containing some names that will arch eyebrows, should be treated no differently.

It will be up to the district attorney to determine whether any or all of Barron’s clients should be prosecuted, a decision that likely will hinge on the evidence available. But where there is clear evidence, charges should be brought and names named.

If any elected official or public employee is on that list, the taxpayers have a right to know.

If public servants of any rank or tenure are knowingly breaking the law, those who helped elect them or pay their salaries are entitled to that information.

The potential scope of the operation and the career fallout that could result from the list becoming public is significant.

So, too, are the crimes Barron stands accused of.

There are many potential victims in this case, many of whom never crossed the threshold into Lori Barron’s place of business.

That includes the women in her employ, Lawrence residents and business owners who don’t deserve another attack on their quality of life, taxpayers, clients’ families who may suffer the consequences, the state for nonpayment of employment taxes, voters and beyond.