Wednesday, March 12, 2014
THOMASTON - Mark Strong Sr. lives in an 1800s-era sea captain's home on Knox Street, halfway between Thomaston's small downtown and the St. George River. He grew up in the house, which has been in his family for years. His wife, Julie, sells antiques from an attached barn.
Mark Strong Sr.
Mark Strong Sr. is known as a shrewd businessman and civic leader in his hometown of Thomaston, where he still lives in this 1800s-era sea captain’s home in which he grew up. Townspeople were shocked when Strong was arrested in July on a charge of promoting prostitution.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
About a mile away, in the former Maine State Police barracks on Route 1, is the Strong Agency, where the 56-year-old former selectman has sold insurance for more than two decades. He's known throughout town as a hard worker, a shrewd businessman and a sports enthusiast who has been a Little League coach and umpire.
He is also suspected of leading a prostitution ring in Kennebunk, about 100 miles from his hometown. So far Strong is the only person charged in the case, but local police have said other charges are expected. Strong's attorney said a list of alleged clients, which police seized during a search of two Kennebunk properties, is long and includes politicians, police and clergy members.
After a lengthy investigation into suspicious activity at the Pura Vida Studio on York Street in Kennebunk, police arrested Strong in July on a charge of promoting prostitution. An affidavit filed in Biddeford District Court indicates that police seized evidence connecting Strong and Alexis Wright, the Zumba studio's owner. That evidence includes bank and telephone records, and several video files of the two engaging in sex acts.
Wright has not been charged, but the affidavit alleges that men paid her to perform sex acts over a period of several months. The woman also is suspected of videotaping the sex acts without the consent of the patrons, sending them electronically to Strong and posting them online.
Strong, sitting behind a neat desk inside his office, politely declined to talk about the case or the charge he faces.
"Every time my name's in the paper, it hurts me," he said.
Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, has filed a motion to dismiss the charge. Strong's next court date is Sept. 14.
So far, the case has focused on Strong and Wright, but their attorneys have said that many johns could face charges of soliciting prostitution. Lilley said he's heard that the list is long and includes prominent figures.
Some court documents associated with the case are sealed, but Strong's attorney said he has every intention of making sure all those names are made public. Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, said she wants the documents made public as well.
"How can you charge someone with promoting prostitution and not charge anyone with engaging in prostitution?" Lilley said. "I've never had a case like this."
TOWN 'SHOCKED' TO LEARN OF CHARGE
Leaders in the town where Strong has spent his entire life aren't sure what to make of the charge against him.
Jim Leonard, the athletic director for Oceanside High School, used to co-host a sports talk show on public-access cable several years ago with Strong and others called "Sports Nuts." He said Strong's reputation in town is "rock solid."
"I was shocked. I still can't believe it," Leonard said. "This came out of left field."
Peter Lammert, a town selectman who served with Strong in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was equally surprised. "The whole situation is such a wild thing there has to be more to it," he said.
Shannon O'Brien worked for Strong at the insurance agency until a few months ago and often heard gossip about her former boss. Still, she said, no one would have ever suspected Strong might be involved in prostitution. "Nobody had a clue," O'Brien said, adding that those who still work for Strong at his insurance agency are "in denial."
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Peter Lammert, a town selectman who served on the board with Mark Strong Sr. in the late 1980s and ’90s, was surprised to learn of the charges against Strong. “The whole situation is such a wild thing there has to be more to it,” he said.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer