November 9, 2012

Prostitution case invites legal scrutiny

Some observers question the deliberate pace in the prosecution of the Kennebunk case, but experts say it may be an effort to keep it from ‘spinning out of control.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

Before charges of prostitution in Kennebunk set off a media frenzy, the most high-profile case that Kathryn Slattery had handled as York County's district attorney involved a puppy mill in Buxton.

Now, Slattery and Deputy District Attorney Justine McGettigan, the lead prosecutor in the prostitution case, are under the glare of scrutiny, from the public and from experts and attorneys -- those who are connected to the case and some who aren't.

Some observers say they're surprised at how the prosecutors have handled aspects of the case, in particular the slow, drop-by-drop release of information including the names of alleged prostitution clients of Alexis Wright. More names are expected to be released Friday on the Kennebunk Police Department's biweekly crime blotter.

Others say it's premature to criticize the work of local detectives or the District Attorney's Office without knowing what information they have.

Everyone, though, appears to agree that the case is without legal precedent, at least in Maine.

While it's not uncommon for high-profile criminal cases to drag on for months with legal maneuvering, the prosecution has raised eyebrows with its deliberate approach in this case involving mostly misdemeanors whose typical punishment is a fine on par with a parking ticket.

"I don't understand the benefit, to anyone, of dragging it out like this," said Paul Aranson, a former prosecutor who's now a defense attorney representing one of the suspected clients. "It will be interesting to see how it plays out."

According to court documents, police began investigating Wright in February after word began to spread that she was using her Zumba dance studio for illicit activities. The investigation went public in July with the arrest of Mark Strong, a businessman in Thomaston who police say acted as Wright's business partner.

Evidence seized from Wright's studio and her home in Wells connected her to Strong through bank records and explicit video footage.

Wright wasn't charged until early October, when a York County grand jury indicted her on 106 counts, most of them promoting prostitution or engaging in prostitution. She also is charged with theft by deception, evasion of income tax and failure to pay tax.

The case has drawn national attention, for its lurid details and what authorities say is a list of as many as 150 clients, including some well-known figures.

Daniel Lilley, Strong's attorney, has accused Slattery's office of mishandling the case, citing its failure to provide him with evidence.

Lilley has played a key role in drawing public interest to the case. As soon as his client was charged, Lilley said he would fight to make sure the list of clients was released.

He also created buzz by telling reporters that the list includes prominent figures. So far, the best known name has been that of James A. Soule, a former mayor of South Portland.

In the one major court hearing in the case so far, in early October, McGettigan drew Lilley's ire when she told the judge that Strong's computer contained "markers" consistent with child pornography. Lilley said he was blind-sided by that claim and has denied it.

Justice Nancy Mills responded by telling prosecutors to be more prepared to share information.

Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, has not been as outspoken in her criticism, saying only, "There are things about the investigation and the way the prosecution has been handled that are certainly unusual."

McGettigan has declined to comment on the case in the last few weeks. She did not return calls for comment this week.

Slattery issued a news release last month saying her office will not comment on any pending cases.

Robert Ruffner, a defense lawyer who is not involved in the case, said he's not surprised by their silence.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Justine McGettigan

Tim Greenway

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Nancy Mills

Tim Greenway

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Mark Strong Sr.

Tim Greenway

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