PORTLAND — While acknowledging his clean record and community involvement, Justice Nancy Mills decided Thursday that Mark Strong Sr. needed to pay a significant price for his role in promoting a one-woman prostitution business from a Zumba studio in Kennebunk.
“Mr. Strong was involved in all aspects of this business,” Mills said before sentencing him to serve 20 days in jail and pay a $3,000 fine.
“One of the most chilling discussions I watched (during the trial) was Mr. Strong discussing whether (alleged prostitute Alexis Wright) could get more customers in. It was like he was trying to get her to sell two cars instead of one.”
Before he was sentenced, Strong made a tearful apology for his actions.
Mills ordered Strong, 57, of Thomaston, into custody after imposing the sentence.
Strong’s attorney Daniel Lilley asked for the jail sentence to be postponed pending an appeal, but Mills denied that request and a request that Strong be temporarily freed on bail.
Strong was convicted on March 6 in York County Superior Court after a jury trial on 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution. Prosecutors said he worked with Wright from October 2010 to February 2012 and kept detailed written and video records of the operation.
Mills, who issued her sentence in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court, also ordered Strong to pay $80 per day during his jail term as reimbursement for his incarceration.
“I am satisfied that he does accept responsibility,” she said after hearing Strong’s apology. “Punishment is not the overreaching goal of the criminal justice system.”
Strong, dressed in a charcoal suit, white shirt and line-patterned tie, struggled to read his written apology to the court, sounding choked up and at times tearful.
“Mostly I’d like to apologize to my wife and my sons and my entire family for causing so much harm,” he said. “The next right thing for me to do is to ask for the help I need for myself, my spiritual growth, to become the person that I want to be.”
Strong’s wife, sons and many other family members submitted letters to support him and were present in court during the hearing.
Defense attorneys had asked for a sentence of no more than 14 days in jail, while prosecutors sought a longer punishment of a year with a $24,000 fine.
Mills took a recess part way through the sentencing proceedings as Strong’s wife, Julie, broke down in tears asking her for leniency.
“Go easy on my husband,” Julie Strong begged. “He clearly has learned from this experience.”
Julie Strong spoke with their son, Bradley, by her side.
“What started as my greatest nightmare has turned into one of God’s greatest gifts,” she said. “It has given me a new marriage with a new man.”
She said her husband has now returned to being the man she knew when she met him.
After the recess, Mills said that she took into consideration the length of time the prostitution business was in operation, that Wright allegedly saw three to four clients a day, three to four times per week and had more than 140 clients.
But the judge said she also took into consideration that Strong had no prior criminal record, has been employed his entire life and was significantly involved in trying to improve his community.
“I believe a jail sentence is warranted,” Mills said. “I intend for you to begin this sentence today. And if you do the math, you will be released in time for your son’s wedding.”
Before the sentencing hearing began, Mills heard and denied a motion by Strong’s other attorney, Tina Nadeau, seeking to deny 12 of the 13 counts against Strong on grounds that prosecutors were not specific enough in their allegations against him to warrant the promotion of prostitution charges.
Members of the media were told to leave the courtroom before Strong was taken into custody by court officers. He was led, still dressed in his suit, outside the courthouse and onto a prisoner transportation bus. He was taken first to the Cumberland County Jail and will be transferred to the York County Jail.
Outside the courthouse, Lilley said he had filed an appeal of the verdicts and took issue with a question by one reporter who asked whether he was pleased with the “lenient” sentence.
“These are misdemeanors. These are not lenient sentences,” Lilley said. “This is a rather large sentence for misdemeanors.”
The lead prosecutor in the case, York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, said the prosecutors and Kennebunk police who investigated the case were “very satisfied” with the sentence.
McGettigan argued in sentencing that both a ledger and videos clearly document the prostitution business.
“This was not a man in love. This was not a voyeur. This was a hard-nosed businessman,” McGettigan said, mentioning Strong’s success running his insurance and photography businesses. “He used that same business acumen to develop this prostitution business.”
Wright, 30, of Wells, is scheduled to stand trial in May on 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.
Wright last appeared in court on March 13 for plea negotiations in Portland with her attorney, Sarah Churchill.
Churchill filed a motion Wednesday, saying that because another settlement conference is scheduled March 29, she is asking that her deadline to file pretrial motions on Wright’s behalf be extended to April 16.
The judge has ordered Churchill to file pretrial motions by March 26.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at