October 26, 2012

Theft charges carry harshest penalties in Kennebunk prostitution case

Alexis Wright is accused of not reporting $150,000 income and wrongfully collecting welfare and food stamps over a several-year period.

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

PORTLAND -- Alexis Wright, a Zumba instructor from Wells, has been indicted on dozens of charges of prostituting herself and secretly recording the sex acts, but the most serious charges she faces are related to taxes and public assistance benefits.

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Alexis Wright

2011 Press Herald File

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

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A York County grand jury indicted Wright last week on 106 counts -- three of which are felonies -- in an alleged prostitution operation based out of her fitness studio in Kennebunk.

The misdemeanors carry maximum penalties of one year in prison and $2,000 fines or six months and $1,000.

The felony charges -- two counts of theft by deception and one count of evasion of income tax -- carry sentences of as much as 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines, or five years and $5,000.

Wright, 29, is scheduled to face the charges Tuesday in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.

Mark Strong Sr., the other key defendant in the case, is also to be arraigned, on 59 misdemeanor charges: violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution and conspiracy to commit those crimes.

The proceeding may address other issues, including a gag order proposed by prosecutors and Strong's motion to dismiss the original charge lodged against him in July.

In February, authorities who searched Wright's Pura Vida studio in Kennebunk, a nearby office and her home in Wells found records about clients, the sex acts performed and a ledger key, according to a police affidavit in the case.

The documents indicate that the sex acts would have generated $150,000.

The client records, which have not been made public, apparently include more than 150 individuals, including prominent figures.

Prosecutors have indicated that many of the "johns" will be charged, but it's not clear how many.

In charging Wright with theft by deception, authorities allege that she collected federal income tax refunds worth more than $10,000 from July 21, 2010, to Feb. 8, 2012, and received food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits worth more than $10,000 from Jan. 1, 2008 to Feb. 29, 2012.

The felony tax evasion count is for more than $2,000 worth of state income tax for 2011.

The other counts in the indictment include lower-level tax offenses, making false statements to the state Department of Health and Human Services, violating privacy, engaging in prostitution, and conspiracy.

Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Wright and her child lived with the child's father until May 2007, according to family court documents.

The parents share parental rights and responsibilities, with Wright providing the primary residence and the father providing $97 a week in child support.

By 2009, Wright was teaching Zumba classes around Kennebunk.

The next year, she got a permit for her fitness studio and signed a lease with Strong.

Accompanying the indictment were DHHS documents from 2010 showing that Wright worked at various times for Unum, Kennebunk Parks and Recreation and Quest Fitness in Kennebunk, and as a self-employed instructor.

She listed her assets as a 2006 Toyota 4Runnner, $25 in a savings account and $200 in a checking account.

In November 2011, Wright indicated that her child's father was five weeks behind in child support payments and that she was going out of business.

Strong and Wright apparently had known each other since at least 2007.

The website for Strong's modeling and photography business includes photos of Wright bearing a 2007 copyright date.

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, has said that Wright hired Strong, who is a private investigator as well as an insurance agent, to look into Kennebunk police because she felt harassed by them.

He has said that Strong loaned Wright money for what he believed was a legitimate business venture. 

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

akim@pressherald.com

Twitter: AnnKimPPH

 

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