Maine prosecutor: Agent managed Zumba prostitution

March 5, 2013 - 9:29 PM
Zumba Prostitution

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2013 file photo, Mark Strong Sr., leaves the Cumberland County Court House in Portland, Maine. The jury in Strong’s trial watched a video Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, showing a sexual encounter between Zumba fitness instructor Alexis Wright and a man who left cash on her massage table. Strong is charged with 13 counts that relate to promoting prostitution. He contends he had an affair with Wright and helped her launch her Pura Vida dance studio in Kennebunk, Maine, but his lawyer has said he was unaware of any paid sex. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

ALFRED, Maine (AP) — An insurance agent charged with promoting prostitution signed a lease, reviewed ledgers, confirmed the identities of johns and used Skype to monitor a Zumba instructor's paid sex acts, making him not just a voyeur but her full-fledged business partner, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

Mark Strong Sr. helped fitness instructor Alexis Wright, his mistress, open her dance studio and "controlled, supervised and managed" the business to the point she took no action without his approval, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said.

But the defense characterized Strong, 57, as a man who was infatuated with a younger woman and made bad moral decisions but never profited from the operation.

"A business partner without making any kind of money? What kind of a business partner is that?" defense lawyer Dan Lilley told jurors, who heard closing arguments Tuesday and will begin deliberations Wednesday.

Strong is accused of helping Wright use her Kennebunk fitness studio as a front for prostitution from October 2010 to February 2012. He has pleaded not guilty to a dozen counts of promoting prostitution and a count of conspiracy to promote prostitution. Invasion of privacy charges against him were dismissed.

Wright, 30, faces more than 100 counts including prostitution and tax violations. She also has pleaded not guilty and will be tried later.

The prostitution scandal in Kennebunk, known for its ocean beaches and old mansions, attracted international attention after it was reported that Wright's ledgers indicated she had more than 150 clients and made $150,000 over 18 months. So far, more than 60 john suspects have been charged.

Testimony and videos indicated Strong was familiar with operational details of what happened in Wright's dance studio, chatting via Skype before and after her sexual encounters and watching the sex acts from his office 100 miles up the coast in Thomaston.

Often, Wright provided Strong with her clients' license plate numbers, which Strong checked out using his status as a private investigator, prosecutors said. Wright wanted to confirm her clients' identities and have someone watching over the sex acts to stay safe, McGettigan said.

"This is more than a voyeur. This is a business partner with a business plan and a business that's successful," McGettigan said.

But Lilley compared Strong's role to that of a bank that loans money to someone who uses it to commit a crime or a mother who provides meals and housing to a son who's a drug dealer. Neither the bank nor the mother would be charged, and Strong shouldn't have been charged either, he said.

"Do you really think this man went into the business of prostitution, or had he fallen in love or lust with a woman and tried to help her, a single woman with a child?" he said.

Before closing arguments, one of the final witnesses was Strong's brother, an attorney who testified that he told police officers executing a search warrant at Strong's home and office not to let Kennebunk officers have unsupervised access to his seized computers.

The defense has contended Strong was investigating possible unprofessional conduct by Kennebunk police personnel and police targeted him in retaliation because he was delving into internal police matters, including an affair that involved the lead investigator.

"It was my understanding that there was information on the computer that Kennebunk police officers did not want disclosed," James Strong testified.

One hard drive from Mark Strong's office ended up with the Kennebunk investigator, and it was blank when it was delivered to state police. Lilley has suggested that the drive could have contained Strong's investigatory findings before being erased.

McGettigan dismissed the theory of reprisal against Strong and urged jurors not to be distracted by the suggestion of a "crazy conspiracy."

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