October 26, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Slow-moving prostitution case has lots of people squirming

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

Portland attorney Dan Lilley's phone is ringing off the hook these days. So is fellow Portland barrister Sarah Churchill's.

"I've gotten a myriad of calls," Churchill, who's representing a young woman linked to an alleged prostitution ring in Kennebunk, said in an interview this week. "I'm keeping a log -- I had to, to keep it all straight."

"I've had calls from lawyers who represent, as they put it, the johns," echoed Lilley, who's defending Mark Strong Sr. of Thomaston against a charge of promoting said prostitution. "Put it this way. I believe -- I have to be careful here -- I believe there is a clients list of 100 or more people on it, but I have not seen it."

People? What kind of people?

"I've heard there's lawyers, doctors, politicians, some clergy members, some police officers," Lilley said. "These are the rumors, but I don't have any evidence. They won't give me anything -- they're treating me like an unwanted relative."

Welcome to a nail-biter of an ever-so-slowly developing news story -- at least for those who for obvious reasons now wish they'd never heard of Alexis Wright's Pura Vida/Zumba dance studio, let alone set foot inside it.

To recap:

Last month, police charged Strong with overseeing a dance studio/prostitution shop allegedly run by Wright in otherwise sleepy Kennebunk.

According to a police affidavit on file in York County Superior Court, Wright maintained "several client ledgers of sexual acts, hours of video recordings and meticulous records of clients and the sexual acts performed by Alexis Wright. A monetary value was given to each sexual act, depending on what type of sexual act was performed."

The affidavit by Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby also says: "The numerous sex acts were video recorded unbeknownst to the males she was having sex with."

Wright has not been charged, although Churchill said that will likely change in the near future. Ditto, she said, for the johns.

"I have reason to believe that the DA's office has taken the position that they're going to charge the johns, they're going to charge my client and they're going to go forward against (Lilley's) client," Churchill said. "They're going to charge everybody -- it's a nobody-gets-a-break kind of thing."

Which brings us back to all those nervous lawyers -- and, of course, the gentlemen on whose behalf the discreet inquiries are being made.

Observed the never-shy Lilley: "The lawyers are now forming a club of some kind. I mean it, really -- they've got a couple of people in charge that are going to see if they can't sneak in (to court) and plead to something and maybe do a community service and keep a low profile."

Sure, like that will work.

York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery declined comment Thursday, noting, "It's an ongoing investigation, so there's really not much I can say."

But Lilley, no surprise, has plenty to say -- starting with his irritation that a motion for discovery he filed with Slattery weeks ago has yet to elicit any response whatsoever. He has now filed a motion to dismiss the charge against Strong.

Lilley is also peeved that six months into this case -- police first showed up at the dance studio with a search warrant on Valentine's Day -- his client is the only one with a mug shot.

"It's the craziest case because here we have my client charged with promotion of prostitution without a prostitute and without anybody engaging a prostitute," Lilley said. "So what is my guy promoting?"

Churchill is equally mystified.

"Typically speaking, an investigation starts from the bottom -- the low-level folks -- and works its way up to the top of the pyramid," she said. "Here, we've turned the pyramid on its head and they've charged -- in theory, as far as they're saying -- the top of it first."

Some might take that as a sign that Madame Wright is already cooperating with investigators in exchange for immunity or a lesser charge. Not true, says Churchill.

"This is certainly not a case where there are agreements for my client to testify against anybody else," Churchill said. "That's certainly not the reason why she hasn't been charged."

So ... what is the reason?

Contacted Thursday, Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie said the whole sordid matter will be resolved in "good time."

"Obviously, a lot of people want to know (where this thing is headed) and I totally understand that," MacKenzie said. "From our standpoint, we have to make sure everything's investigated thoroughly and so that's exactly what we're doing."

Meanwhile, the squirming goes on.

As the case stands, there appear to be three ways that Wright's list of, ahem, clients could see the light of day.

One, assuming Churchill's theory is correct, is that they'll all be charged with solicitation of prostitution. That, Churchill noted, could bog down York County's courts for months if the johns decide they have nothing left to lose by going on trial to try to salvage their good names (if not their marriages).

Another possibility is that Wright will post her client list, say, on Facebook or some other bulletin board for all the world to see.

Observed Churchill: "The DA's office, in and of itself, is not in complete control over whether those names get out."

Finally, there's Lilley's promise that if Strong's case proceeds, all of the top-shelf lawyers in Maine won't stop him from "hauling (the johns) in there if I need them for my defense."

(Picture Lilley pointing to Strong at the defense table and asking red-faced witness Number 99, "Have you ever seen this man before?"

"No," mumbles Number 99.

"Next!" thunders Lilley.)

Bottom line, look for all that lawyerly speed-dialing to soon give way to mea culpas crafted by crisis-management consultants. Before this slow-motion scandal is over, it now looks like the other shoe(s) will inevitably drop.

"Exactly," agreed Lilley. "And it's going to make a big thud."

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@mainetoday.com

 

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