Thursday, April 24, 2014
ALFRED — The lead investigator in the Kennebunk prostitution case testified Friday in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. that she considered him a "pimp."
Mark Strong Sr. is accused of helping Alexis Wright promote a one-woman prostitution business.
Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer
Kennebunk police Officer Audra Presby
Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer
Under questioning by one of Strong's attorneys, Kennebunk police Officer Audra Presby said a pimp is someone who makes money from prostitution. That drew three rapid-fire objections from the prosecutor.
Presby's testimony got to the heart of the prosecution's case against Strong, who is charged with conspiring with Alexis Wright to promote a sex-for-money business, and to the core of his defense.
When the trial started two weeks ago in York County Superior Court, Strong's attorney Daniel Lilley said in his opening statement that Strong had an extramarital affair with Wright but neither paid for sex nor profited from his relationship with her.
Under Maine law, however, the prosecution does not necessarily have to prove profit.
Presby was on the witness stand all day Friday and provided potentially important testimony in the high-profile case.
She testified that she linked Strong to the prostitution case after seeing him in a sex video with Wright, then matching his voice to recorded conversations with her.
And Presby revealed new information about Wright: The Zumba instructor was also a licensed investigator's assistant. Strong, an insurance businessman, was a licensed private investigator.
Presby testified Friday that, from a sex video recorded on Jan. 17, 2012, she matched Strong's voice to a man who was heard but not seen on dozens of other videos showing Wright exchanging sex for money with other men.
Strong allegedly watched the encounters live through a computer webcam and spoke with Wright through the computer when the men were out of the room.
They discussed things such as checking men's license plates and which clients she had lined up for the day.
"Each and every time I watched a video, I would hear a male voice," Presby said.
Friday was Presby's second day on the witness stand, after a brief appearance Thursday afternoon. She is expected to return to the stand Monday, along with several other Kennebunk police officers and possibly some of the men who have been convicted of engaging Wright for prostitution.
The most dramatic moment Friday came as Lilley questioned Presby about her use of the word "pimp" in one of her police reports and asked her to define the word.
"I felt that the word 'pimp,' at the time, was someone who was assisting, controlling her in the business of prostitution," Presby said.
"Your opinion is that a pimp in a prostitution deal would make money on the transaction?" Lilley asked.
"That is correct," Presby responded.
"So a pimp is someone who makes money, in your opinion?" Lilley asked.
"Objection," Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan called out with Lilley in mid-sentence.
"Objection!" she called out again as Lilley kept talking.
And again, raising her voice: "Objection!"
The judge in the trial, Justice Nancy Mills, made no ruling on the objections and called the attorneys to speak in whispers at the end of her bench, on the other end of the courtroom from the jury.
Presby testified Thursday that she was assigned to the investigation in September 2011, after the department had received complaints of suspicious activity at Wright's Pura Vida Zumba studio at 8 York St.
"I did not discover any suspicious activity," she said of her initial searches in 2011.
But she followed up on the Internet and found a blog that caught her attention, she said.
"When I performed the online search, not only did I find this site, Sensual Body Works by Lydia, I also found ... online sex videos of this individual," Presby said.
Presby said she arranged for Agent Kyle Moody, a Saco police officer assigned to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, to call the number listed on the blog in December.
Prosecutors played the recording of Moody making the phone call. He asked what paying for an hour's massage could get him. When he asked whether it would buy him sex, the woman on the recorded call responded "OK," and they discussed meeting.
Moody testified last week that he never followed through with the appointment.
"We were still trying to confirm all these suspicious-activity calls," Presby testified Thursday.
It wasn't until months later, on Valentine's Day 2012, that police obtained a warrant and searched Wright's Zumba studio, her business office at 1 High St. in Kennebunk, her home in Wells and her vehicle.
Strong co-signed Wright's lease for the Zumba studio, but Presby testified that officers seized nothing there.
At the office, police seized condoms, a bottle of Astroglide, four bottles of baby oil, two computers, an external hard drive, an iPhone and a Maine private investigator's assistant license in Wright's name, Presby said.
Neither Presby nor prosecutors have said anything to indicate the importance that Wright's private investigator's badge and license may have in the trial.
However, Strong was a licensed private investigator at the time of the investigation, and his attorneys say he was targeted by police for looking into unprofessional conduct in the Kennebunk Police Department, including an affair that Presby had with her supervisor in violation of town policy.
Presby admitted on the stand Friday that she had an affair with Lt. Nicholas Higgins and was reprimanded for it, and that Higgins quit the force as a result.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring to promote prostitution. His trial was initially expected to last three weeks, but after two weeks, more than 40 witnesses remain to be called.
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.
The case has drawn international attention, in part because Wright is suspected of keeping a meticulous list of customers, including prominent figures. Sixty-six have been charged, and 18 had been convicted by the end of 2012.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: