October 26, 2012

Agent, instructor face 165 charges in prostitution case

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED - A Zumba instructor from York County and an insurance agent from midcoast Maine have been indicted on multiple charges in connection with an alleged prostitution operation based at a dance studio in Kennebunk.

Alexis Wright

click image to enlarge

Mark Strong Jr.

The indictments against Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston and Alexis Wright, 29, of Wells were made public late Wednesday afternoon by the York County District Attorney's Office.

Strong is charged with 59 counts, including promoting prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy.

Wright was indicted on 106 counts, including promoting prostitution and engaging in prostitution. She is also charged with theft by deception, evasion of income tax and failure to pay tax.

She is the first person to be charged in the case other than Strong, who was arrested in July and charged with promotion of prostitution.

Daniel Lilley, Strong's Portland-based attorney, said he has a list containing the names of more than 150 people who allegedly visited Wright at her Pura Vida Studio in Kennebunk.

Lilley said Wednesday night that it would be premature to release the list to the media, but said he recognized names, including people who work for local media outlets and law enforcement, accountants and a cattle rancher.

None of the people on the client list was on Wednesday's indictment list, but Justina McGettigan, a deputy district attorney in York County, said the number of people charged in the prostitution operation will probably grow.

Wright started teaching Zumba classes in Kennebunk in 2009 before opening her own studio in 2010.

In the summer of 2010, someone started an anonymous website filled with accusations about Wright. Police started fielding anonymous complaints about Wright in 2011.

McGettigan said the promotion-of-prostitution charges against Wright date back to activity that began in October 2010.

The investigation into reports of suspicious activity at Wright's dance studio began on Valentine's Day of this year, when authorities searched the studio and Wright's office, which are on York Street, and her home in Wells.

According to a police affidavit, the searches yielded evidence of prostitution, including hours of footage of sexual acts, meticulous client records and a price list for various sexual acts.

Investigators said they uncovered links between Wright and Strong, who in addition to being an insurance agent works as a private investigator.

The affidavit indicates that Wright sent video footage of sexual encounters to Strong and asked him to check license plate numbers, and that police found video of the two having sex.

The investigation became public in July when Strong was arrested.

Attempts to reach Wright by email and cellphone Wednesday night were unsuccessful. Her attorney, Sarah Churchill, did not return phone calls.

Lilley said he had not seen the indictment list, but he did respond to the fact that his client now faces 59 charges.

"In our business, we call it overcharging for an underwhelming case," Lilley said. "It sounds totally ridiculous to me."

He said that if Strong goes to trial, he will subpoena people from the client list to testify, at which point their names will be made public.

Lilley said his client has been struggling to keep his business afloat because of the publicity the case has received. He indicated that it might be difficult to find an impartial jury for a trial.

"It's a very strange case," Lilley said. "Now (the prosecutors) have overreacted. It looks like they have taken a shotgun approach."

Assistant Attorney General William Stokes said Greg Bernstein and Darcy Mitchell, who specialize in criminal tax prosecutions and benefits fraud for the state, will prosecute Wright on the charges of not paying taxes on her income -- from prostitution -- and theft by deception.

Stokes said Wright received more than $10,000 in state aid -- he said it may have been food stamps -- for which she was not eligible because of her income from prostitution.

"Though it's illegal, it is still considered a source of income," Stokes said.

Stokes said the state will serve as co-counsel in the case against Wright, with the York County District Attorney's Office acting as lead prosecutor.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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