Partner in Zumba prostitution case set for trial
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- The business partner of a Zumba instructor accused of using her dance studio as a front for prostitution is set to go on trial Tuesday after last-minute plea negotiations failed.
Jury selection is set to begin in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., an insurance agent from Thomaston. Strong faces 59 misdemeanor charges including conspiring with Alexis Wright, who's accused of running a prostitution operation out of her studio in the seaside community of Kennebunk. He was also charged with violation of privacy and promotion of prostitution.
A pool of 250 potential jurors in the trial has been ordered to report to York County Superior Court in Alfred. The process of selecting a jury will take a couple of days, officials have said.
The judge will be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't heard about the case, which created international headlines in the fall.
Celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, whose clients have included Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, said cases like this one cause problems for judges.
"These are what I affectionately call `supersized trials,' trials that for whatever reason end up gaining momentum that's far beyond what the case justified," Geragos said from Los Angeles, where he's based.
In October, Strong issued a statement saying he helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid with interest. But he said he did not engage in any criminal conduct.
He acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright, but said he never paid her for sex. He told ABC News last week that he didn't consider their relationship to be romantic.
The 57-year-old Strong was originally charged in the summer with a single misdemeanor count. But the case expanded after law enforcement agencies continued to investigate.
Police said Wright videotaped many of her encounters without her clients' knowledge and kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. A lawyer who's seen the client list says it totals 150. So far, more than 60 people have been charged or pleaded guilty.
Wright, who lives in Wells, will be tried at a later date. She faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts allegedly performed in her studio and in a rented office across the street. Unlike Strong, she faces a couple of felony counts.
In Kennebunk, people became accustomed to news crews and satellite trucks after indictments were handed up. At first, locals were baffled and bemused by the news coverage. Eventually, many of them became angry and irate.
Michael Reed takes the view of many Kennebunk residents -- that Strong, Wright and the vast majority of accused johns are outsiders whose actions shouldn't reflect negatively on the community, known for its beaches, captain's houses and, across the river in Kennebunkport, the Walker's Point compound of former President George H.W. Bush.
"Maybe it's blown out of proportion a little bit. My personal opinion is that I don't care," said Reed, who suggested many other residents had lost interest in the case.
Geragos wasn't familiar with all of the details of the Kennebunk case, but he figures Justice Nancy Mills will have her hands full.
He recalls a judge being exasperated over the notion of trying to move a trial to a place where people haven't heard of a case. These days, it's sometimes impossible.
"He said, `Mr. Geragos, where am I going to move this to? Shall I put the jurors in a capsule and ship them into space?"' Geragos said. "The problem is they take on a life of their own and it becomes incredibly hard to manage that."