Tuesday, March 11, 2014
BIDDEFORD - The first wave of men who were publicly named weeks ago as alleged "johns" of former Zumba instructor Alexis Wright in Kennebunk's still-growing prostitution scandal are due to appear in court to face charges Wednesday after weeks of waiting.
Kennebunk police released their 21 names in mid-October after issuing criminal complaints against them, each on a charge of engaging a prostitute. Police have since released dozens more names as part of their biweekly arrest blotter.
Reputations have been tarnished since police began releasing names, and many may want the scandal to go away as the day of their first court appearance passes.
But that's not likely, according to defense attorneys for Wright and her alleged co-conspirator, Mark Strong Jr.
Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, and Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, as well as prosecutors, may call suspected johns to the witness stand when the cases against Wright and Strong are brought to trial.
"I may call them whether they plead guilty or not. If these people go in there and think they're going to plead quietly guilty that's probably not going to happen," Lilley said. "It's unlikely I would need to call all of them as witnesses, but I have to keep my options open."
Churchill said she will pay attention to what happens in the cases against the men charged as johns to see how they may be called to testify in the case against Wright.
"I'm following it to the extent to see who is a witness for my client or against my client," Churchill said.
So far, at least 62 men have been charged with engaging a prostitute in connection with the case. At least four have pleaded guilty before police could issue a criminal complaint against them, avoiding being named in the biweekly blotter but not the national media attention the case has garnered.
Of the first 21 men who were named in mid-October, only one has pre-empted his scheduled appearance Wednesday in Biddeford District Court by entering a not-guilty plea early, waiving arraignment and requesting a jury trial in York County Superior Court.
That man, Donald Hill, 52, of Old Orchard Beach, is on the Superior Court docket for Jan. 17. And his attorney, Gary Prolman, has filed a motion in advance seeking "a complete list of any/all names, addresses, and accompanying discovery of all cases that were considered by the Kennebunk Police Department for engaging in prostitution in connection with Alexis Wright and Mark Strong," according to court records. Prolman did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.
Authorities have said Wright kept detailed records of more than 150 clients, including some prominent figures. Police began investigating her after receiving complaints from neighbors that many different men could be seen coming and going from Wright's Zumba studio for short visits.
In total, Wright has been charged with 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible. She has pleaded not guilty.
Strong, a businessman from Thomaston, has been indicted on 59 misdemeanor charges of promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy to commit those crimes. He also has pleaded not guilty.
While Prolman may be seeking the complete list of more than 150 clients as part of his client's defense, Churchill and Lilley already have the list, they said.
Churchill said "it's entirely possible" that she could call any of those men to the witness stand since prosecutors have made such "broad, summary allegations" against Wright.
"All of these people on the entire quote-unquote list are potential witnesses," Churchill said.
Lilley said he may call witnesses to the stand simply to say they had never heard of his client, since Strong likely had no contact with any of the men in the case.
"They could testify they never heard of this guy (Strong) or that he was never in the Zumba studio," Lilley said.
Wright and Strong are currently due to be tried separately, but prosecutors have a motion pending to ask a judge to reconsider and try them jointly.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: