AUBURN — A judge fined a Lewiston firefighter Friday for engaging a prostitute.

Undated police handout photo of Anthony “Pete” Morrell Submitted photo

Anthony “Peter” Morrell, 54, of 21 Cleaves St., paid a $300 fine and a $500 victim compensation fee in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

Morrell responded Jan. 3 to an online advertisement for sexual contact in exchange for money, Assistant District Attorney Nathan Walsh wrote in court papers.

Lewiston police had posted the ad and monitored the website for any communications between potential customers and an undercover female officer posing as a sex worker.

Morrell answered the ad at about 1 p.m. that afternoon and agreed to pay $100 for sex. He was instructed by police to go to a Lewiston hotel and was given a room number.

He asked whether the sex worker was a “cop,” but didn’t ask whether she was a victim of human trafficking or was otherwise compelled to engage in prostitution, Walsh wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Morrell arrived at the hotel an hour later and went to the designated room, Walsh wrote.

He pleaded guilty July 3.

Defense Attorney Edward Rabasco wrote in a sentencing memo that Morrell had accepted responsibility for his actions and argued Friday that his client not be sent to jail.

Rabasco said the case “has nothing to do with sex trafficking.” He said there was no evidence that Morrell believed that anyone was being compelled to engage in prostitution. He believed that the other party was an “adult, willing participant,” Rabasco wrote.

“This was an undercover sting operation,” he wrote.

Morrell has no criminal record.

He was charged in 2012 with misdemeanor drug possession but, after he performed community service and underwent drug counseling, that charge was dismissed.

Employed as a firefighter in Lewiston, where he is on medical leave, he once worked there as an inspector and investigator, Rabasco said.

Morrell has struggled with substance abuse “on and off over the years,” Rabasco wrote, but said his client has been sober since 2012. After his January arrest on this charge, he was hospitalized before seeking residential treatment in Maryland that lasted two months. Since then, he has been treated weekly by a counselor and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“This event for Mr. Morrell was a relapse” of mental illness issues, Rabasco wrote.

Morrell began volunteering in May at St. Mary’s Health System as a recovery speaker, giving presentations and assisting in the inpatient detox as well as outpatient recovery programs, Rabasco wrote.

Prosecutors had sought to have Morrell spend a week behind bars.

The misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail.

When the Legislature amended its statute for the crime of engaging a prostitute to include jail time, it “thereby made known its intent to punish the crime … with a term of imprisonment for a first offense,” Walsh wrote in court papers.

Walsh wrote that Morrell “held a position of public trust” as a firefighter, “where he may be called to respond to assist the very people laws against human trafficking have been designed to protect,” Walsh wrote.

Pointing to Morrell’s treatment earlier this year after his arrest, Walsh noted that Morrell had taken a similar route of treatment in 2012 after his drug arrest.

“The court’s consideration of a willingness to engage in treatment for substance abuse disorder with a drug possession charge is appropriate in many circumstances, but it should give the court pause when the charge involves commercial exploitation of others,” Walsh wrote.

Walsh argued that Morrell should spend a week in jail for his actions.

In sentencing Morrell with a fine, Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford said the case is “a great example” of the success of drug rehabilitation.

“He’s done a lot for the community and others,” Clifford said. “Firefighters put their lives on the line every day for us.”

 

 

 

Undated police handout photo of Anthony “Pete” Morrell Submitted photo


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