NEWPORT — A former Newport businessman, Justin Corliss, 32, is awaiting trial in Pennsylvania on charges of aggravated sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, indecent assault and corruption of minors.
Newport police are hoping that if Corliss victimized any Maine children while he was here, news reports of his out-of-state arrest will prompt them to come forward.
In 1992 and 1993, Corliss operated Mainely Reptiles on Newport’s Main Street.
Corliss was arrested last summer in Bartonsville, Pa., after police learned he was having an affair with a 14-year-old girl. He was released on $50,000 cash bail, according to Officer Tom Lynott of the Pocono Township (Pa.) Police, and likely will stand trial in March. Corliss could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted, said Lynott.
While working in Maine, Corliss was well known to local authorities. He was arrested twice and extradited to New Jersey on felony charges.
In 1992, Corliss opened Mainely Reptiles on Main Street, an amphibian and reptile shop, and often gave talks about his animals at Newport area schools. He was an outspoken advocate for reptile regulations and attempted to change state laws regarding reptiles.
But after publicity about his business spread, informants told police that Corliss was wanted on felony theft charges in New Jersey under the name Jason Carbone. A governor’s warrant from New Jersey was obtained, and Corliss was arrested and sent to that state.
At the time of his arrest, Corliss said it was just a mix-up over the sale of a laser printer.
Just before he was sent back to New Jersey, however, Corliss was arrested again, this time by Maine game wardens. He was charged with misuse of endangered species resulting from his possession of three spotted turtles. Corliss denied the charges, claiming he was exempt from state rules because he was not selling the turtles but using them for breeding and exhibitions.
Corliss paid a fine and served 21 days in jail for the New Jersey theft charge, according to Lynott. The Maine charge was dismissed in Penobscot County Superior Court when Corliss originally was incarcerated in New Jersey.
The man’s latest legal tangle began when an 11-year-old girl, a friend of the victim’s, witnessed Corliss and the 14-year-old girl having sex. She told the victim’s older sister, who told the victim’s parents, who called police. According to Lynott, Corliss had told the child that the “age of consent” in Pennsylvania was 14. The legal age is 16, said Lynott. The girl was an employee at Corliss’ store in Bartonsville, The Reptile Store.
“She was not really cooperative,” said Lynott, “because she thought she loved the guy.”
Lynott said Corliss is denying the charges. “He’s a smooth one, well-read and well-spoken. But for a 32-year-old to have sex with a 14-year-old is inexcusable, especially with an audience.”
Newport Police Chief Jim Ricker, who originally arrested Corliss in December 1992 on the New Jersey warrant, hopes that if anyone was victimized by Corliss when he operated his Newport business in 1992 and 1993, that person will come forward. Ricker can be reached at the Newport Police Department at 368-3263.