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Female impersonator returns stolen wedding gown

A man says he took the gown and another dress to perform in. "You have to keep up," he says.

Gene Roy Newell says he is sorry he swiped a wedding dress and a navy blue evening gown from two New Port Richey stores, and he vows never to do it again.

On Friday, one day after his arrest on theft charges, Newell told the Times that he took the dresses so he would have new clothes to wear onstage as a female impersonator in various Tampa Bay clubs.

"You have to keep up," he said. "It's very hard."

Newell, 21, told deputies Thursday that he took the blue dress valued at $180 from Bridal Creations on May 29, then took the wedding gown from the Cluttered Closet consignment store on April 18. The wedding dress was worth $400, said store owner Traci Laduke.

At one point, Newell considered wearing the wedding gown and singing Chapel of Love during one of his shows.

"Spring is here, honey," he said.

Laduke told Pasco County sheriff's deputies that the man who stole the dress was 6 feet 4 and 360 pounds; Bridal Creations owner Eileen Banaciski called the thief "ugly."

Newell wants people to know that he's not that large _ he's 5 feet 10 and 250 pounds _ and he is peeved that someone called him ugly.

He gave the two dresses back to sheriff's Detective Leonard Longo, who returned them to the store owners Friday. Newell was charged with grand theft, a felony, and retail theft, a misdemeanor. Longo recommended that Newell be released on his own recognizance because he does not have a criminal record.

Longo said another person helped Newell steal one of the dresses, and charges are pending against that person.

Newell hasn't decided what he is going to sing _ or wear _ during his Sunday show at the Lost and Found Club in Clearwater, and he is worried that his arrest will cost him his job as a telephone customer service representative.

Newell said he has performed in Tampa Bay as a female impersonator for about a year. His stage name is Ereya Marquette.

Wearing fuzzy leopard-print slippers and running his long, purple fingernails through his short red hair on Friday, Newell said he was surprised about the publicity surrounding the thefts.

"Everyone made a big old deal about it," he sighed, standing outside of his Holiday mobile home. His living room was decorated with lots of books and a copy of the fashion magazine W.

He also apologized and repeated what he wrote in a confession to Longo: "I promise I will never steal another high-priced evening gown again," he said, then paused.

"I know a lot of girls who sew. I guess I should learn to sew."