March 23, 2013

Our View: Zumba prosecution critics off the mark

It was right for authorities to enforce the law, even though the appropriate penalty was light.

Criticism about the outcome of the big Zumba trial is breaking down into two categories: Some comes from those who think it was too much, and some from those who think it was too little.

click image to enlarge

Mark Strong Sr., his wife, Julie, and their son Bradley hug during a recess in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland on Thursday. Mark Strong was sentenced to 20 days in jail and ordered to pay $3,000 in fines.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The too-much crowd looks at the police prostitution investigation of a Kennebunk fitness instructor and her business associate and wonder whether it was worth the trouble.

Mark Strong Sr. was sentenced to 20 days in jail and fined $3,000, after the case sparked an international media circus and a high-profile trial that required two trips to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for rulings.

While Zumba instructor Alexis Wright is still facing charges, a light jail sentence for Strong doesn't seem to match all the effort that went into prosecuting him.

The too-little critiques complain that while the prosecution was justified, the punishment doesn't match the crime. They would like to have seen Strong sent away for a full year, as the district attorney recommended.

But both are off the mark.

When police began looking into Wright's business, they found more than just the usual sex-for-money operation. Strong and Wright were charged with videotaping sexual encounters. Those images could have been used in a massive extortion racket. The authorities were right to stop it before more serious crimes were committed.

The case has inspired a lot of libertarian arguments about whether prostitution should even be illegal, but the fact is that it is. When investigators uncovered this business operation in their town, they had no choice but to act. It would have been negligent to look the other way.

The people who wanted to see a longer sentence may be responding to the outsize public interest the case attracted, not the facts that Judge Nancy Mills faced. It's not Mills' fault that people are more interested in illicit sex than they are in illicit bookkeeping. Both are misdemeanors, and newspaper headlines don't make one crime more serious than another.

In the end, Strong's crime is serious and he is paying a heavy price, especially to his reputation. For the rest of his life, people will snicker about his involvement in a high-profile sex crime, something about which no businessperson would say he got off easy.

Rather than too much or too little, this may be a Goldilocks sentence where the outcome is just right.

 

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