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December 11, 2012

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Mark Strong Sr.

Zumba case lawyer to argue illegal search

By Scott Dolan
sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

LEWISTON — The attorney for Mark Strong Sr., one of the key defendants in Kennebunk's high-profile prostitution case, plans to argue in court Wednesday that the investigation of his client was flawed from the start and that the case should be dismissed.

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, has filed two motions in York County Superior Court, one saying police had only "rumor and innuendo," not real evidence, when they first sought search warrants and another saying authorities have failed to disclose everything they found in the searches.

Strong, 57, a businessman from Thomaston, is accused of conspiring with Alexis Wright, a former Zumba instructor who authorities say ran a prostitution operation out of her studio in Kennebunk.

Wright, 29, of Wells, has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.

Strong has been indicted on 59 misdemeanor charges of promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy to commit those crimes.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Strong and Wright are scheduled to be tried separately, but prosecutors still have a pending motion asking that they be tried together. No ruling had been made by Tuesday.

Lilley's argument that the investigation was flawed focuses on the lead investigator, Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby. Lilley argues that Presby's applications for search warrants "represent the recklessly shoddy work that has gone into this investigation" and that prosecutors should not benefit from Presby's "sloppiness and slights of hand."

Lilley argued that police had only anonymous complaints when they first applied for warrants, on Feb. 10, to search Wright's business, home and vehicle.

Presby's affidavit says witnesses reported seeing men arrive at Wright's studio and hearing "a lot of moaning and groaning," but Lilley argues that police did nothing to verify those statements.

Lilley said Tuesday that police based their investigation on the equivalent of "street corner gossip" so the evidence seized from Wright's properties should be ruled inadmissible.

He argues that police used that evidence as a basis to search Strong's phone and business records, and ultimately for an arrest warrant and search warrant for Strong's properties and vehicles.

In Lilley's second motion, he argues that the case against Strong should be dismissed because prosecutors have failed to turn over evidence as required by law. He said Strong, a private investigator, was investigating the Kennebunk Police Department, which retaliated against him.

"The major thing I haven't received is an investigative tape or hard drive of what my client, Mark Strong, was investigating, the Kennebunk Police Department for violation of professional conduct," Lilley said. "He had his investigative report on that drive when his house was searched."

The lead prosecutor, York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of Lilley's arguments.

"We'll address Mr. Lilley's motions in court ," she said. The hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. before Justice Nancy Mills.

Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, said she has read Lilley's motions and agrees with his arguments. Churchill has until March 26 to file motions in Wright's case.

Churchill also represents Wright in family court in Lewiston, where Wright could lose custody of her 7-year-old son because of the accusations against her.

Benjamin Hopkins, the boy's father, is seeking custody, citing the media attention. Family Court Magistrate Paul Mathews has ordered that the custody hearing Thursday in Lewiston be closed to the public and ordered the case file sealed.

Hopkins' attorney, Dana Prescott, filed a motion on Oct. 15 arguing that the case against Wright "has now gone viral in the media," that Wright married recently and that her husband, Jason Trowbridge, moved to Texas. The motion also says Wright has family in Mexico.

Prescott argues that while bail conditions bar Wright from traveling, her son still has an active passport.

Hopkins is asking the court to grant him primary custody, impound their son's passport and restrict their son from leaving Maine without a court order.

Churchill countered in an objection filed with the court that Wright's husband is a Maine resident, although he works out of state and travels for weeks at a time. Churchill said Wright and her son don't travel with him and continue to live in Wells.

Although the court ordered the case files sealed this month, the Portland Press Herald obtained copies of Hopkins' motion and Wright's objection. The custody case in Lewiston dates to 2007, when Wright first filed for custody.

So far, at least eight men have pleaded guilty to single counts of engaging a prostitute in the case. Four of them pleaded guilty in York Court Superior Court through their attorneys and three others were found guilty in Biddeford District Court.

The District Attorney's Office identified the eighth man this week in response to a Freedom of Access request by the Press Herald.

Neil McDonald, 58, of 13 Acorn Lane in Scarborough, pleaded guilty before Justice Roland Cole on Nov. 30 in York County Superior Court, with his attorney appearing on his behalf. McDonald was fined $1,000 and assessed $210 in fees and court costs.

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

sdolan@mainetoday.com



Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Alexis Wright



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