December 17, 2012

Judge affirms separate trials for key figures in Zumba case

Mark Strong's attorney also makes a motion to have key evidence thrown out and the case dismissed, which the judge will rule on later.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — Alexis Wright and Mark Strong Sr., who are accused of running a prostitution business from Wright's Zumba studio in Kennebunk, will have separate trials, a judge affirmed Wednesday.

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The trials of Alexis Wright and Mark Strong Sr. were severed by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills.

File photo

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Justice Nancy Mills signed an order rejecting prosecutors' motion asking her to reverse the decision she made Nov. 9 and try Wright and Strong together.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, is scheduled to stand trial in one month on 59 misdemeanor charges of promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy to commit those crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.

Wright, 29, of Wells, is tentatively scheduled for trial in May. She 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.

Also Wednesday, attorneys appeared before Mills in York County Superior Court to argue for and against two motions filed by Strong's attorney, seeking to have key evidence thrown out, and to have the case dismissed.

Daniel Lilley argued in one motion that police used only anonymous "rumor and innuendo," not real evidence, to obtain warrants to search Wright's properties in Kennebunk and Wells in February, and that police used evidence from those "illegal" searches to obtain search warrants against Strong.

Strong asked that the evidence be thrown out, which could undermine the cases against everyone charged in the sweeping investigation that has made international news.

Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, the lead prosecutor in the cases, said Strong has no standing for his motion regarding the search of Wright's property.

McGettigan said that although Strong's and Wright's names were on the lease for the Zumba studio, nothing was seized there. She argued that Strong has no stake in the other properties that police searched: Wright's business office at 1 High St. in Kennebunk, her two homes in Wells and her vehicle.

"He doesn't have any expectation of privacy in Ms. Wright's property," McGettigan said.

Lilley is seeking a hearing to question the police officer who is leading the investigation of Strong and Wright, Kennebunk Officer Audra Presby, who applied for the search warrants.

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 says Strong, a private investigator, was investigating the Kennebunk Police Department, which retaliated against him.

Lilley said that in a raid of Strong's property in July, police seized a computer hard drive that contained detailed records of Strong's investigation of Kennebunk police. Police have denied that detailed report exists, he said.

McGettigan said prosecutors have released all evidence to Lilley.

Mills made no ruling on either motion.

At least 64 men have been charged with being prostitution clients of Wright. At least eight of them have already been found guilty of engaging a prostitute -- a misdemeanor -- and fined.

Wright allegedly kept detailed records of more than 150 clients, including some prominent figures.

Kennebunk police continue to release names of men charged in the case on biweekly arrest blotters.

Other men have negotiated, through their lawyers, directly with the District Attorney's Office before being charged and named on the police blotter.

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

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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