December 11, 2012

Zumba case lawyer to argue illegal search

The attorney for Mark Strong says officials also have not disclosed everything found in searches in the high-profile prostitution case.

By Scott Dolan
Staff Writer

LEWISTON — The attorney for Mark Strong Sr., one of the key defendants in Kennebunk's high-profile prostitution case, plans to argue in court Wednesday that the investigation of his client was flawed from the start and that the case should be dismissed.

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Mark Strong Sr.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Alexis Wright

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, has filed two motions in York County Superior Court, one saying police had only "rumor and innuendo," not real evidence, when they first sought search warrants and another saying authorities have failed to disclose everything they found in the searches.

Strong, 57, a businessman from Thomaston, is accused of conspiring with Alexis Wright, a former Zumba instructor who authorities say ran a prostitution operation out of her studio in Kennebunk.

Wright, 29, of Wells, 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.

Strong has been indicted on 59 misdemeanor charges of promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy to commit those crimes.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Strong and Wright are scheduled to be tried separately, but prosecutors still have a pending motion asking that they be tried together. No ruling had been made by Tuesday.

Lilley's argument that the investigation was flawed focuses on the lead investigator, Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby. Lilley argues that Presby's applications for search warrants "represent the recklessly shoddy work that has gone into this investigation" and that prosecutors should not benefit from Presby's "sloppiness and slights of hand."

Lilley argued that police had only anonymous complaints when they first applied for warrants, on Feb. 10, to search Wright's business, home and vehicle.

Presby's affidavit says witnesses reported seeing men arrive at Wright's studio and hearing "a lot of moaning and groaning," but Lilley argues that police did nothing to verify those statements.

Lilley said Tuesday that police based their investigation on the equivalent of "street corner gossip" so the evidence seized from Wright's properties should be ruled inadmissible.

He argues that police used that evidence as a basis to search Strong's phone and business records, and ultimately for an arrest warrant and search warrant for Strong's properties and vehicles.

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

"The major thing I haven't received is an investigative tape or hard drive of what my client, Mark Strong, was investigating, the Kennebunk Police Department for violation of professional conduct," Lilley said. "He had his investigative report on that drive when his house was searched."

The lead prosecutor, York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of Lilley's arguments.

"We'll address Mr. Lilley's motions in court ," she said. The hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. before Justice Nancy Mills.

Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, said she has read Lilley's motions and agrees with his arguments. Churchill has until March 26 to file motions in Wright's case.

Churchill also represents Wright in family court in Lewiston, where Wright could lose custody of her 7-year-old son because of the accusations against her.

Benjamin Hopkins, the boy's father, is seeking custody, citing the media attention. Family Court Magistrate Paul Mathews has ordered that the custody hearing Thursday in Lewiston be closed to the public and ordered the case file sealed.

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