February 22, 2013

Witness saw accused Zumba prostitute disrobe; 'really awkward'

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — The manager of a pizza shop next to the Zumba studio in Kennebunk where Alexis Wright allegedly ran a prostitution business testified Thursday that when he delivered food to her home, Wright dropped the towel she was wearing and stood naked in front of him.

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Testimony began Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., right, who is accused of running a prostitution ring with Zumba instructor Alexis Wright. A Toppings Pizza employee and Wright's landlord testified against Strong on Thursday.

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Daniel Racaniello, manager of Toppings Pizza, said he went to the Cousens School Apartments in Kennebunk to deliver pasta to Wright.

"She just had a towel on and I walked in, proceeded to the table and put the food down," Racaniello said in York County Superior Court. "She was getting the money out, and off goes the towel.

"It got a little awkward. She was just standing there in front of me, naked," he said. "It was really awkward. She proceeded to walk over to me and handed me the money. It was $40 or $50. I told her the bill was only $8, and she told me to keep it."

Racaniello was a witness for the prosecution on the second day of the closely watched trial of Mark Strong Sr. of Thomaston, who is charged with 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring with Wright to promote prostitution.

Wright, 30, who now lives in Wells, is scheduled to stand trial in May on 106 counts including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.

Racaniello testified that he works about 12 hours a day, seven days a week, but he remembered Wright's order: spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread.

The tip, he said, "made my day."

Racaniello said nothing in his testimony about Strong's role in Wright's alleged activities.

He said he knew Wright as a customer of Toppings Pizza and the occupant of the fitness studio next door. He said Wright often came in with her son, and sometimes came in with her boyfriend, whose name he did not know. The description he gave of the boyfriend did not match Strong's appearance.

Racaniello said he saw men drive up to the studio during the day, when the curtains were drawn and the door was locked. As many as five or six cars would arrive each day, he said, and the men would be let into the studio.

"I observed customers come in throughout the day," he said. "She would have classes going on typically in the evening."

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, asked Justice Nancy Mills to wipe Racaniello's testimony from the record as irrelevant.

"There is nothing involving my client," he said, "and these types of testimony are prejudicial."

The judge denied Lilley's request.

Christopher West, who rented Wright office space across the street from her studio, testified that other tenants of the building at 1 High St. complained about loud music and "moaning and groaning" coming from the office.

West, who also works as a Saco firefighter, said he began investigating the noises in February 2012.

He said, "I observed loud music in the entranceway of the space Alexis rented and moaning and groaning sounds."

He said he let himself into her office space on Feb. 7, 2012, with his own key and saw a massage table, a tripod and a video camera.

West said that on Feb. 15, the day after police raided Wright's properties as part of the prostitution investigation, he went back into the office space and removed her remaining belongings, including the massage table and the tripod, a suitcase with several outfits, a box of adult toys, used condoms, used baby wipes and a bucket with a used feminine hygiene product.

(Continued on page 2)

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