Prosecutors in Maine rest in Zumba paid sex case
ALFRED, Maine (AP) — Attorneys for an insurance agent accused of helping a Zumba instructor engage in prostitution attacked police motives and the lead investigator’s inexperience Monday in a huge case that drew international attention to the town of Kennebunk.
Police Chief Robert F. MacKenzie testified that he passed over the department’s only detective, two lieutenants and four patrol sergeants in favor of having a patrol officer lead the investigation because he felt that she had the most time to devote to the case.
“This appeared to be a complex case and that it was going to take the full attention of an investigator. I did not want to tie up our detective,” he said, explaining why he chose the patrol officer.
The defense called its first witnesses in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. on Monday after the prosecution rested its case. The government didn’t call any johns to the stand after attorneys stipulated that video recordings showed paid-sex acts took place on two-dozen dates.
Strong’s attorneys also asked the judge to dismiss 12 of 13 remaining counts that relate to the promotion of prostitution.
The judge didn’t immediately rule.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, is accused of helping Alexis Wright use her Kennebunk fitness studio as a front for prostitution.
The married businessman has acknowledged having an affair with Wright and helping her open a dance studio but he contends he didn’t profit from any of her activities. She’ll be tried later.
Videos played for jurors last week indicated Strong discussed operational details with Wright and watched her have sex with men for money from his computer 100 miles away in Thomaston.
The final witness for the state was the chief investigator, police officer Audra Presby. She testified that Wright, in addition to recording sex acts, had a video camera rolling while police executed a search warrant on Feb. 14, 2012. She said Skype video snapshots recovered from Strong’s computer in Thomaston indicate he watched the search unfold live on his computer.
Also, it was disclosed that Wright videotaped herself masturbating while a Kennebunk police cruiser drove by and then posted the video online. MacKenzie, the police chief, said prosecutors told him that her actions didn’t constitute a crime but he still asked her to remove the video.
The defense contends Strong was targeted by Kennebunk police as retaliation because he was looking into unprofessional conduct by its officers.
Presby, who joined the Kennebunk Police Department as a reserve officer in 2006, told jurors Monday that she was “taken aback” when she learned that a yellow legal pad recovered from a search warrant executed at Strong’s office indicated he’d been collecting information about her and other officers in the department.
“I had never seen this man, and yet my name and the others in my department were all over his legal pad,” she said. “It was quite shocking. I didn’t know what this man was doing with this information.”
The judge limited some of the defense’s efforts to raise questions about officers’ past conduct, but Presby acknowledged that she was reprimanded for having an affair with her superior, who resigned.
She also acknowledged she was once subject of a temporary protection-from-abuse order involving a child. Police say the accusation was unfounded.
The prostitution scandal attracted international attention last fall after it was reported that Wright had ledgers indicating she made $150,000 over 18 months and had more than 150 clients, some of them prominent.