August 16, 2013

Judge rules Alexis Wright can plead the Fifth

The woman at the center of the Kennebunk prostitution scandal can refuse to testify against an alleged john.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — Alexis Wright, the former Zumba instructor convicted as the key figure in a Kennebunk prostitution scandal that captured international attention, may be called as a witness next week at the trial of a man accused of hiring her for sex, but a judge ruled Thursday that she wouldn't have to say much.

Today's poll: Alexis Wright

Do you agree with Justice Roland Cole's ruling that Alexis Wright be allowed to exercise her 5th Amendment right at the trial of Donald Hill?

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Alexis Wright is sworn in at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Donald Hill, the former Kennebunk High School hockey coach who is charged with engaging zumba fitness instructor Alexis Wright for prostitution in 2011, appears at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday.

The Associated Press

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Wright, now serving the third month of a 10-month sentence at York County Jail, had been subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify at the trial of Donald Hill, a former Kennebunk High School hockey coach charged with engaging Wright for prostitution in 2011.

Justice Roland Cole ruled during a hearing in York County Superior Court on Thursday that if Wright is called as a witness, she can exercise her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent on grounds that her testimony could be used against her.

Wright, dressed in an orange jail uniform, appeared at the hearing and spoke briefly from the witness stand with her attorney, Sarah Churchill, sitting by her side.

Wright, who identified herself by her married name, Alexis Sandra Trowbridge, answered only two questions, saying she knew Hill and identified him as he sat in the courtroom.

"I'm going to exercise my right to remain silent," Wright answered to each of a series of other questions posed to her by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon.

Wright's husband, Jason Trowbridge, also attended the hearing, waving to her at one point from the spectator section of the courtroom.

Gordon told the judge that the District Attorney's Office had offered Wright immunity from being prosecuted for her testimony and that the U.S. Attorney's Office had written a letter to the court declining to prosecute Wright federally if she testified.

But Churchill argued successfully that no matter what immunity prosecutors offered, Wright could be charged with perjury if she testifies to something that prosecutors consider untrue.

"I think the perjury concern is real," Churchill said.

Churchill said prosecutors "made it very clear" previously that they did not believe Wright's explanation of why she went into prostitution.

Wright has contended she ran her prostitution business from her Zumba studio and office in Kennebunk under the belief that she was acting as an undercover agent working for the state.

Wright contends that her business partner, Mark Strong Sr., who was a licensed private investigator in Maine, had convinced her that she was acting as an investigator looking into "sexual deviants."

Hill, who has pleaded not guilty to a single misdemeanor count, is the first of 68 people charged with paying Wright for sex to have his case go to trial. At least 58 of the 68 have already pleaded guilty or pleaded no contest.

Prosecutors had tried to bring seven more charges of engaging a prostitute against Hill as his trial date neared, but the judge ordered the new counts dismissed.

Thursday's hearing came just four days before Hill, 53, of Old Orchard Beach, is scheduled to go on trial.

Hill's attorney, Gary Prolman, said Hill was unaware that Wright worked as a prostitute and that his situation differed from those of other men charged with engaging Wright for prostitution.

"He thought he was in a relationship with her," Prolman told the judge.

Wright, 30, of Wells, pleaded guilty March 29 to 14 counts of engaging in prostitution and six other misdemeanors, avoiding a trial that attorneys anticipated could have lasted six weeks and created a media spectacle.

In addition to serving jail time, Wright must pay more than $58,000 in fines and restitution, including more than $40,000 for theft of welfare benefits and more than $16,000 in taxes for unreported income.

Wright's plea followed the jury trial of her business partner, Mark Strong Sr., who was convicted on March 6 of promotion of prostitution after nearly two weeks of witness testimony.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, has already completed his sentence, serving a portion of a 20-day term in jail.

Strong also has been subpoenaed to testify as a witness at Hill's trial. The judge said he would rule next week during the trial whether Strong can invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The case against Wright began on Valentine's Day 2012 with a police raid at her Zumba studio and business office in Kennebunk.

It put communities on edge late last year as police charged wave after wave of alleged "johns" from Wright's client list of more than 140 names.

Kennebunk police have said they are continuing to investigate 40 additional people on that list and are awaiting word from the District Attorney's Office on whether to charge them.

Hill faces a maximum fine of $1,000 if convicted.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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Additional Photos

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Alexis Wright is escorted into York County Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

  


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Today's poll: Alexis Wright

Do you agree with Justice Roland Cole's ruling that Alexis Wright be allowed to exercise her 5th Amendment right at the trial of Donald Hill?

Yes

No

View Results