Lawrence: Kevin Provencher, sports writer for the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, NH, stands in Lawrence District Court with his attorney Jessica Thrall during his arraignment for two counts of deriving support from a prostitute in Andover. Photo by Angie Beaulieu/Eagle-Tribune Wednesday, July 29, 2009

SALEM, Mass. — Former New Hampshire Union Leader sportswriter Kevin Provencher will spend 21/2 years in jail after he admitted yesterday to allegations of running a prostitution ring out of hotels in Andover and Southern New Hampshire.

Provencher, 52, of Manchester, N.H., pleaded guilty yesterday in Salem Superior Court to two counts of deriving support from a prostitute, two counts of procuring a person into prostitution, two counts of solicitation for prostitution and one count of intimidation of a witness.

On those charges, Provencher was sentenced by Judge Timothy Feeley to 21/2 years in jail for intimidation of a witness, two years in jail on two counts of procuring a person to practice prostitution and one year in jail on the two counts of soliciting for prostitution. The jail sentences will run concurrently, Feeley said.

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Woodard said Provencher employed prostitutes between Nov. 2008 and July 2009, taking half their earnings and charging them for the hotel rooms he booked for them. Provencher was a veteran sportswriter at the Manchester newspaper, but "on the side he worked as a pimp," she said.

Andover detectives set up a sting operation at the hotel on June 11, 2009, after complaints from employees at the SpringHill Suites in Andover and were able to interview several prostitutes and customers during their investigation.

Woodard said police learned Provencher advertised the womens' services on websites such as craiglist.org. Provencher was arrested at his 153 Donald St. home in Manchester, on July 29, 2009.

Employees at the hotel told police that Provencher would reserve a room on Thursdays and Fridays and tell hotel staff that either his girlfriend or wife would be coming by to visit him or use the room while he was at work, according to a police report.

Once one or two females would occupy the room, "a string of males" were seen leaving the rooms, Woodard said.

The women earned $240 per hour or $150 per half hour for sexual encounters, and would then pay Provencher half of what they made, either directly or by depositing it in his bank account, Woodard said.

Provencher was also charged with intimidating a witness after he "threatened to have his attorney shred the two women apart in the media if they spoke to the police," Woodard said.

Woodard said the two prostitutes — who were identified only as "Jane Doe" and "Jill Doe" during the hearing — decided not to appear in court but one said she believed Provencher took advantage of her, and the other said that she was held accountable after being and arrested, and Provencher should be as well.

Based on those facts, Woodard pushed for not less than two years and no more than five years in state prison on several of the seven counts against him.

"His crime was not a one time lapse in judgement," Woodard said, defending her call for a stricter sentence. "(Provencher) planned, thought out and ran these services on the expense of these two women."

Defense attorney Paul Garrity said that his client should only serve probation because he has no prior record. He said the "side business" was started because of the downturn in the newspaper business with his salary being significantly reduced. He called it a bad decision on Provencher's part that deserves a punishment but said the district attorney's recommendation was not reasonable.

"To call these women victims is really overplaying this," Garrity said. "That's just not accurate."

He said the two women and Provencher were "equal players" in the operation. He also said there is evidence that the two women still may be active prostitutes.

Feeley said he agreed with Woodard's request for time in state prison, but because Provencher has no previous record, he reduced the sentence.

For 23 years, Provencher worked as a full-time sports reporter for the Union Leader. He is a four-time recipient of the New Hampshire Sportswriter of the Year award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

Provencher will also spend one year on probation after his release on the two counts of deriving support from the earning of prostitutes. As conditions of his probation, Feeley ordered Provencher to pay a $5,000 fine, have no contact with the women he solicited for prostitution and forfeit a computer seized by the police.

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