Monday, March 10, 2014
ALFRED — The manager of a pizza shop next to the Zumba studio in Kennebunk where Alexis Wright allegedly ran a prostitution business testified Thursday that when he delivered food to her home, Wright dropped the towel she was wearing and stood naked in front of him.
Testimony began Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., right, who is accused of running a prostitution ring with Zumba instructor Alexis Wright. A Toppings Pizza employee and Wright's landlord testified against Strong on Thursday.
Staff File Photos
Daniel Racaniello, manager of Toppings Pizza, said he went to the Cousens School Apartments in Kennebunk to deliver pasta to Wright.
"She just had a towel on and I walked in, proceeded to the table and put the food down," Racaniello said in York County Superior Court. "She was getting the money out, and off goes the towel.
"It got a little awkward. She was just standing there in front of me, naked," he said. "It was really awkward. She proceeded to walk over to me and handed me the money. It was $40 or $50. I told her the bill was only $8, and she told me to keep it."
Racaniello was a witness for the prosecution on the second day of the closely watched trial of Mark Strong Sr. of Thomaston, who is charged with 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring with Wright to promote prostitution.
Wright, 30, who now lives in 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.
Racaniello testified that he works about 12 hours a day, seven days a week, but he remembered Wright's order: spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread.
The tip, he said, "made my day."
Racaniello said nothing in his testimony about Strong's role in Wright's alleged activities.
He said he knew Wright as a customer of Toppings Pizza and the occupant of the fitness studio next door. He said Wright often came in with her son, and sometimes came in with her boyfriend, whose name he did not know. The description he gave of the boyfriend did not match Strong's appearance.
Racaniello said he saw men drive up to the studio during the day, when the curtains were drawn and the door was locked. As many as five or six cars would arrive each day, he said, and the men would be let into the studio.
"I observed customers come in throughout the day," he said. "She would have classes going on typically in the evening."
Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, asked Justice Nancy Mills to wipe Racaniello's testimony from the record as irrelevant.
"There is nothing involving my client," he said, "and these types of testimony are prejudicial."
The judge denied Lilley's request.
Christopher West, who rented Wright office space across the street from her studio, testified that other tenants of the building at 1 High St. complained about loud music and "moaning and groaning" coming from the office.
West, who also works as a Saco firefighter, said he began investigating the noises in February 2012.
He said, "I observed loud music in the entranceway of the space Alexis rented and moaning and groaning sounds."
He said he let himself into her office space on Feb. 7, 2012, with his own key and saw a massage table, a tripod and a video camera.
West said that on Feb. 15, the day after police raided Wright's properties as part of the prostitution investigation, he went back into the office space and removed her remaining belongings, including the massage table and the tripod, a suitcase with several outfits, a box of adult toys, used condoms, used baby wipes and a bucket with a used feminine hygiene product.
West said Wright's was the only name on the lease.
Paul Demers, Kennebunk's building inspector, said Wright's and Strong's names appear on paperwork for the studio, with Wright as the tenant and Strong as the guarantor of the lease.
Wright is suspected of keeping a meticulous list of prostitution customers, including prominent figures. Sixty-six have been charged, and 18 had been convicted by the end of 2012.
Strong's trial stalled for more than an hour Thursday afternoon.
Police Officer Audra Presby, the lead investigator in the case, was scheduled to testify at 1 p.m. But at 11:09 a.m., the criminal clerk's office received a faxed letter from the law firm that represents the town of Kennebunk, addressing "confidentiality of municipal employee's personnel records."
Part of Strong's defense has been that Kennebunk police targeted him in retaliation for his work as a private investigator looking into unprofessional conduct in the department. Lilley has said that police seized a hard drive from Strong's house that contained all the details of his investigation. The hard drive was never seen after the police raided Strong's home in July, Lilley has said.
The lead prosecutor, York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, said she talked to Natalie Burns, the attorney who sent the letter to the court, and learned that Kennebunk has a policy that allows it to expunge union members' personnel records. Presby now has nothing public on her personnel record.
The judge scheduled a hearing for 9:30 a.m. Friday, for Burns and Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie to appear before her, and instructed the jury to return for testimony at 10:30 a.m.
As attorneys dealt with Burns' letter, prosecutors had no witnesses at the courthouse besides Presby. The judge ordered McGettigan to find a witness.
McGettigan got Maine State Police Detective Lauren Edstrom to testify about evidence seized in July from Strong's insurance business in Thomaston.
The prosecution also expects to call several other state police, including detectives from the Major Crimes Unit and evidence collection experts.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: