The Thomaston man accused of promoting prostitution at Zumba studios in Kennebunk was investigating the police department for alleged harassment of the instructor, the man’s lawyer said Thursday.

Mark W. Strong Sr., an insurance agent who is also a private investigator, met Alexis Wright when she hired him because of difficulties she was having with the Kennebunk Police Department, according to Daniel Lilley, the Portland attorney retained by Strong on Thursday. Lilley said he doesn’t know the extent of the alleged police harassment but will be looking into it.

After Wright hired Strong, she asked him for a loan for a Zumba, a type of fitness dancing, business, Lilley said. She repaid that loan and Strong provided another one that is being paid back, he said.

“My client invested in a business with this woman. Unbeknownst to him, she may have been running an illegal operation. He is not a partner, he is not a recipient of any funds from her other than funds he loaned her,” Lilley said.

Strong was arrested Tuesday on the misdemeanor charge of promotion of prostitution. He was released from the Knox County Jail after posting $5,000 bail. Wright has not been charged.

Police have been investigating complaints about Wright’s business, Pura Vida/ZUMBA studio, but have not been harassing her, said Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee. He also disputed Lilley’s characterization of the connection between Strong and Wright.

“That is not what Mr. Strong has previously indicated his relationship with Ms. Wright to be,” he said.

Sarah Churchill, Wright’s lawyer, said neither she nor her client had any comment at this time.

Police first learned of possible criminal activity at Wright’s business in September. Anonymous callers told police about suspected prostitution and neighboring businesses described men going into the studio, staying for about 30 minutes to an hour. Some of the men arrived at odd hours, some wore business clothes and while some carried gym bags, others carried no possessions. One business owner in the building described “a lot of moaning and groaning” coming from the studio, according to the affidavit.

Police in February got search warrants to search two sites used by Wright — on High and York streets in Kennebunk — and her home in Wells. They found meticulous records of clients, sexual acts performed by Wright and the prices charged for various acts, according to the affidavit. The document stated that sex acts were video recorded without the knowledge of the men and that Wright asked Strong to run license plate numbers. As a private investigator, Strong has access to the state’s motor vehicle database.

Police searched Strong’s home and his business, The Strong Agency, this week.

The affidavit said the investigation established a financial link between Wright and Strong through bank records. The document also stated that video footage showed the two engaged in sexual activities together.

Kennebunk police have said they expect additional charges to result from the investigation, which involves a number of state and federal agencies.

“There will be future charges and we will be looking at anybody who engaged in illegal activity,” Bean Burpee said. “There will be more people down the road. I can’t say whom, how many or the time frame.”

It wasn’t clear whether the alleged prostitution clients would be prosecuted.

York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery said a decision has been made but that she cannot discuss it.

“I’m not going to do anything that will contribute to publicity of the case,” she said.

Defense lawyers in southern Maine have said that clients, which include prominent figures, have been seeking legal assistance.

“A lot of people are nervous, a lot of well-to-do people,” said Jonathan Berry, a Portland lawyer not representing anyone in the case.

Prosecutors will need to produce at least one client to testify if the case goes to trial, said Paul Aranson, a former Cumberland County district attorney.

“I wouldn’t just want to rely on the videotape. In order to really prove the case you would need at least one john,” he said.

But Aranson said he doesn’t think the case will go to trial. Unless other elements like drugs, minors or extortion is involved, all the offenses would be misdemeanors, he said.

Police are usually prompted to begin such investigations by complaints and the prosecution of clients isn’t a necessary part of removing the problem, Aranson said.

“The whole point of doing it is to shut it down because they don’t want it in their neighborhood. So they’ll do what they need to effectuate that,” he said. “They want to keep it as simple as possible.”

 

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