October 26, 2012

Clients on alleged Kennebunk prostitution list likely to be charged

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

ALFRED - Prosecutors say they will likely charge many of the people on a list of clients of an alleged prostitution operation in Kennebunk, but it's not clear when or how those people would be charged.

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This photo shows Pura Vida Studio in Kennebunk on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, where dance studio instructor Alexis Wright allegedly ran a prostitution operation.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Mark Strong

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Observers have speculated that the case -- which apparently involves well over 100 alleged "johns" -- will go to a grand jury next month.

So far, only Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston has been charged in the case. Strong, an insurance agent and private investigator, was charged with promotion of prostitution in July, five months after authorities searched a fitness studio in Kennebunk operated by Alexis Wright, a nearby office space and Wright's home in Wells.

A police affidavit in the case says authorities found video footage of Wright having sex with men who were unaware they were being filmed, a ledger key with prices for various sexual acts, and "meticulous" client records.

A letter filed by one of the prosecutors in Strong's case refers to the client list.

In a letter to the court dated Sept. 20, Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein wrote, "... there is a so called 'client list' with names and contact and other personal information regarding the individuals on the list. The State will likely charge many of these persons with prostitution related offenses, but some of these persons may not be charged."

The police affidavit indicates that authorities have bank records linking Wright and Strong, tax returns filed by Wright and evidence that sex acts she performed would have generated $150,000.

Strong's attorney has said Strong invested in what he believed was a legitimate business venture.

Promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution and engaging a prostitute are all misdemeanors.

Prosecutors rarely present misdemeanor cases to a grand jury, whose proceedings are secret. But using a grand jury would be a savvy strategy for prosecutors in this case, said several criminal defense lawyers who aren't involved.

It could help prosecutors gauge public opinion and test the strength of their evidence, said Peter Cyr, a lawyer in Portland.

A grand jury also could protect prosecutors from allegations of selective prosecution or favoritism, said Jonathan Berry, another lawyer in Portland.

"How is the District Attorney's Office going to decide which johns to charge? They could be ... essentially punting, making it the decision of the grand jury," Berry said.

York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan declined to comment. Bernstein did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The prosecutors filed a motion this week for a protective order -- also known as a gag order -- asking that parties in the case be barred from disseminating or discussing information obtained through the discovery process.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and the York County Coast Star of Kennebunk plan to fight the motion.

"We'll be asking the court to ensure the case remain open to the public," said Sigmund Schutz of Preti Flaherty, counsel for the Maine Press Association. "It raises serious First Amendment issues when we start talking about gag orders limiting what can be said to the press."

Prosecutors prepared the proposed order at the direction of Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler.

Wheeler, who was specially assigned to the case, recused herself from it last week. She did not provide a reason but wrote that it was not because of the issue raised by the defense.

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, asked Wheeler to recuse herself because a clerk who works for her is married to a prosecutor in the case. Bernstein and McGettigan joined Lilley in the motion.

Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills was assigned to the case Monday. She had not ruled on the motion for a gag order as of late Thursday afternoon.

Wheeler and Mills were assigned because there were concerns that judges who normally sit in York County might have to recuse themselves if they knew someone involved in the case. Wheeler is based in Cumberland County. Mills sits in Cumberland and Kennebec counties.

 

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

akim@pressherald.com

Twitter: AnnKimPPH

 

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