ALFRED — More than six weeks after his trial began, Mark Strong Sr., the first major defendant to stand trial in the Kennebunk prostitution scandal, was found guilty Wednesday of all 13 charges against him.
After four hours of deliberation, the jury in York County Superior Court found the businessman from Thomaston guilty of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring to promote prostitution.
Strong, 57, faces as much as a year in prison on each of the promotion charges and as much as six months on the conspiracy charge. All are misdemeanors.
Prosecutors argued that Strong and Alexis Wright worked together to operate a one-woman prostitution operation from Wright’s Zumba studio in Kennebunk.
The trial, which started with jury selection on Jan. 22, included two appeals to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the dismissal of 46 charges against Strong, a decision on how much pornographic evidence the jury should see, and testimony that went on for close to two weeks.
The verdict closed a chapter in a case that has captured international attention in part because of Wright’s meticulous records documenting specific sex acts with each person and the amounts she charged.
Wright, 30, of Wells, is scheduled to stand trial in May on 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.
Strong, wearing a tweed jacket, a white shirt and a tie, took off his glasses as the seven men and five women of the jury entered the courtroom Wednesday afternoon. He showed little reaction as the jury foreman said “guilty” after the clerk read each count against him.
Strong’s wife, Julie, sat with one of their sons in the gallery and wiped a tear from her eye.
Justice Nancy Mills asked Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, who prosecuted the case, whether she would seek bail for Strong. McGettigan said no, and asked that he remain free on his own recognizance.
Outside the courthouse after the verdict, Strong stood with his attorney Daniel Lilley, surrounded by reporters and cameras including a two-person British documentary crew — the only media from outside Maine.
“Really, I’m not surprised, considering what we had to work with,” Strong said.
He said the case has been hard on his family.
Lilley said he was “disappointed” with the verdict but he never argues with a jury.
“We’re going to go forward with the options we have now,” he said, declining to say whether he would appeal the verdict. “We just got the decision, so we’ll have to sit down.”
Strong then got into his silver sport utility vehicle, drove around the courthouse and stopped to pick up his wife, who stepped out of their son’s vehicle to join him.
Mills left the courtroom to thank the jurors before scheduling Strong’s sentencing for March 19.
The jurors were escorted out of the courthouse by two judicial marshals.
One marshal told the media not to approach the jurors, who walked quickly with their heads down. He said they had agreed that they would not speak to the media immediately.
McGettigan did speak to the media, joined by Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie and the lead investigator in the case, Kennebunk police Officer Audra Presby.
“We’re pleased that the jury found the evidence convincing,” McGettigan said. “They believed the overwhelming evidence we showed them that Mark Strong was guilty of promoting prostitution.”
Asked about the resources it took to prosecute Strong, McGettigan said the taxpayers should be pleased with the outcome.
“Prostitution is not legal in Maine, we don’t promote prostitution and we don’t want it in our communities. And the Kennebunk police did a fabulous job investigating this despite all the comments that were thrown out that it was a poor use of resources,” McGettigan said. “In fact, it was a good use of resources because it makes our community safer.”
McGettigan said that while 66 people have been charged with engaging a prostitute in the case — 18 have been found guilty — more may be charged. She said the statute of limitations is three years.
Presby, who was targeted personally and professionally in defense arguments by Lilley, called the verdict “true vindication.”
Lilley claimed that Kennebunk police targeted his client in “retaliation” for Strong’s work as a licensed private investigator looking into unprofessional conduct in the department, on Wright’s behalf.
Presby sat with her family in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
“Law enforcement doesn’t come out every day to play games,” she said afterward. “I took my job seriously, and I’m proud.”
The police chief said the jury saw through Lilley’s arguments.
“We stayed true to ourselves,” said MacKenzie, who was dressed in uniform. “I’m very proud of Officer Presby.”
McGettigan said in her closing argument Tuesday that Strong was not motivated by love for Wright, as Lilley claimed, but by money.
She said documented text messages, emails, phone calls and video chats between Strong and Wright from October 2010 to February 2012, including a detailed ledger with clients and an online calendar of Wright’s appointments, indicated their business connection, as did Strong’s name on the lease of the Zumba studio.
Police seized more than 120 hours of videos from Wright’s properties on Valentine’s Day 2012 and found nearly 14,000 explicit pictures of Wright with clients on computers seized from Strong’s properties on July 10, 2012.
Prosecutors said Strong took those pictures through a video chat program on his computer in Thomaston, activating a camera in Wright’s studio or her business office in Kennebunk.
Strong’s attorneys countered by portraying Strong as being in love, saying his actions were those of a man concerned about the well-being of Wright, a single mother.
Lilley told jurors in his closing argument that two words stand out in the emails between Strong and Wright: “love and concern.”
Lilley said, “Everybody has a different view of sex. Everybody has a different view of lust. You are not here to determine right or wrong. You may think you are, but you’re not.”
Lilley said prosecutors were “double-dipping” in charging his client with 12 charges of promotion of prostitution, including 11 counts for specific months and one “omnibus” count for a longer period of time.
Though Strong was on trial, witnesses mentioned Wright’s name many more times than his.
Strong did not testify, and Wright was not called as a witness since charges against her remain pending.
Those charges include violation of privacy. Mills dismissed 46 such charges against Strong, ruling that clients of Wright’s who were videotaped could have no expectation of privacy while committing a crime.
The dismissal prompted prosecutors to appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld the judge’s ruling.
It was the second time an issue in the trial had gone to the Supreme Court. Soon after jury selection began behind closed doors on Jan. 22, the Portland Press Herald challenged Mills’ decision. The court ordered Mills to open the jury selection to the public.
On Wednesday, as a condition of Strong’s release, he was ordered to not have any contact with Wright.
Wright’s attorney, Sarah Churchill, appeared briefly at Strong’s trial on Friday and spent an extended lunch break with a judge behind closed doors. She declined to comment on the discussion as she left the courthouse.
McGettigan said she and Churchill are scheduled to meet March 13 for what the prosecutor called “a settlement conference.”
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: