October 26, 2012

Attorney says suspect in prostitution case was hired to investigate

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

The Thomaston man who is accused of promoting prostitution at two Zumba studios in Kennebunk was in fact investigating allegations that police were harassing the dance instructor, the man's lawyer said Thursday.

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This office building on High Street in Kennebunk houses the Pura Vida/ZUMBA Studio.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Mark Strong Sr.

Mark Strong Sr., an insurance agent who is also a private investigator, was hired by Alexis Wright because she was having difficulties with the Kennebunk Police Department, said Daniel Lilley, the Portland attorney who has been retained by Strong.

Lilley said he doesn't know the extent of the alleged harassment but will look into it.

Strong was arrested Tuesday on the misdemeanor charge of promotion of prostitution. He was released from the Knox County Jail after posting $5,000 bail. Wright has not been charged with any crime.

After Wright hired Strong, she asked him for a loan for a Zumba business, Lilley said. She repaid that loan and Strong provided another one, which is being paid back, he said.

"My client invested in a business with this woman. Unbeknownst to him, she may have been running an illegal operation. He is not a partner, he is not a recipient of any funds from her other than funds he loaned her," Lilley said.

Police have investigated complaints about Wright's business, the Pura Vida/ZUMBA studio, but have not harassed her, said Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee.

He also disputed Lilley's characterization of the connection between Strong and Wright, saying, "That is not what Mr. Strong has previously indicated his relationship with Ms. Wright to be."

Sarah Churchill, Wright's lawyer, said neither she nor her client had any comment Thursday.

Police learned of possible criminal activity at Wright's business in September, according to a police affidavit filed in Biddeford District Court. Anonymous callers told police that they suspected prostitution, and neighboring businesses described men going into the studio, staying for about 30 minutes to an hour.

One business owner in the building described "a lot of moaning and groaning" coming from the studio, according to the affidavit.

In February, police got warrants to search two sites used by Wright -- on High and York streets in Kennebunk -- and her home in Wells.

They found meticulous records of clients, sex acts performed by Wright and the prices charged for various acts, according to the affidavit. The document says that the sex acts were video recorded without the men's knowledge, and that Wright asked Strong to check license plate numbers. As a private investigator, Strong has access to the state's motor vehicle database.

Police searched Strong's home and his business, The Strong Agency, this week.

The affidavit says that the investigation established a financial link between Wright and Strong through bank records, and that video footage showed the two engaged in sexual activities together.

It wasn't clear Thursday whether any alleged prostitution clients will be prosecuted. York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery said a decision has been made but she cannot discuss it.

Defense lawyers in southern Maine have said that clients, including prominent figures, have been seeking legal assistance.

"A lot of people are nervous, a lot of well-to-do people," said Jonathan Berry, a Portland lawyer who was not representing anyone in the case as of Thursday afternoon.

Prosecutors will have to produce at least one client to testify if the case goes to trial, said Paul Aranson, a former Cumberland County district attorney.

"I wouldn't just want to rely on the videotape. In order to really prove the case, you would need at least one john," he said.

But Aranson said he doesn't think the case will go to trial. Without other elements, like drugs, minors or extortion, all of the offenses would be misdemeanors, he said.

Police are usually prompted to begin such investigations by complaints, Aranson said, and prosecuting clients isn't a necessary part of removing the problem.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

Twitter: AnnKimPPH

 

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