Focus on Zumba teacher in Maine prostitution case

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Associated Press

Posted on March 7, 2013 at 2:33 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 7 at 2:36 AM

ALFRED, Maine (AP) — The focus of a small-town prostitution scandal has turned to a Zumba fitness instructor captured in scores of sex videos now that an insurance agent accused of being her business partner has been convicted.

Video and testimony during insurance agent Mark Strong's trial indicated dance instructor Alexis Wright's trysts were captured by a hidden video camera in a sophisticated operation featuring meticulous ledgers and calendars and the use of license plates to identify clients. Strong, who has acknowledged having an affair with Wright, monitored the sex acts from his office 100 miles away.

Wright faces charges of prostitution and tax violations. She has pleaded not guilty and will stand trial in May if there's no plea deal.

Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said she'll meet with Wright's lawyer next week for a settlement conference.

Wright's lawyer, Sarah Churchill, said the issues are different with Wright's case than with Strong's case. She declined to comment on settlement talks.

The prostitution scandal in Kennebunk, a village known more for its sea captains' homes and beaches than for crime, attracted international attention in the fall after it was reported that Wright's ledgers indicated she had more than 150 clients and made $150,000 over 18 months.

Authorities then set the town abuzz with word that they would be charging each of the johns, leading residents to wonder who they were.

After Strong's conviction Wednesday, McGettigan said the guilty verdicts vindicated law enforcement officials accused of putting too much time and money into the investigation that led to charges, mostly misdemeanors, against the two key figures.

"Prostitution is not legal in Maine. We don't promote prostitution. We don't want it in our communities," she said. "The Kennebunk Police Department did a fabulous job investigating this despite all of the negative comments that were thrown out that it was a poor use of resources. In fact, it was a good use of resources because it makes our communities safer."

More than 60 john suspects have been charged.

While Wright is accused of engaging in prostitution, it was Strong who called the shots by controlling, supervising and managing the prostitution business, prosecutors said.

The married businessman acknowledged helping Wright her open the Kennebunk studio but contended he didn't profit from her prostitution.

Jurors convicted him of all 13 counts: 12 of promoting prostitution and one of conspiracy. Combined, there's a possible prison sentence of 13 years, but that's unlikely because Strong, 57, had no prior criminal record.

Strong, of Thomaston, showed little reaction as the verdicts were announced. His wife buried her head in their son's shoulder and quietly sobbed.

Later, Strong said his family needs to heal.

"It's not easy, obviously," Strong said outside the courthouse. "It's going to take time."

Testimony and videos presented to jurors indicated Strong was familiar with operational details of Wright's activities, chatting via Skype before and after her appointments and watching the sexual encounters from his office in Thomaston. Wright provided clients' license plate numbers to Strong, who used his position as a private investigator to check them out, prosecutors say.

Before each tryst, prosecutors say, Wright took time to make sure her hidden video camera was pointed at the massage table where they took place.

The judge previously dismissed 46 invasion-of-privacy counts that stemmed from videotaping of clients without their knowledge.

Wright, too, faces 46 invasion-of-privacy charges along with 50 additional charges that include prostitution and tax violations.

As for Strong, he has been released on personal recognizance pending sentencing on March 19.

The verdict in the delay-plagued trial came more than six weeks after the start of jury selection, which was halted twice because of legal action that went to the state Supreme Court, leaving potential jurors in limbo for weeks.

Defense lawyer Dan Lilley said he was disappointed by the verdict but is focusing on sentencing and possible appeals.

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Follow David Sharp at http://twitter.com/David-Sharp-AP

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