Maine man gets 20 days in Zumba paid-sex case

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2013 file photo, Mark Strong Sr., leaves the Cumberland County Court House in Portland, Maine. Strong, was convicted earlier this month of 12 counts of promoting prostitution and one count of conspiracy. Prosecutors are seeking a 364-day jail term while the defense is asking for no more than 14 days in jail. His sentencing is Thursday March 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

March 21, 2013 10:20:45 AM PDT
An insurance agent who helped run a prostitution operation out of his mistress's Zumba studio and viewed secretly videotaped sex acts was ordered Thursday to spend 20 days in jail in a scandal that rocked a community better known for its beaches and sea captains' homes.

Mark Strong Sr. apologized for his actions and for the pain he'd caused ahead of his sentencing. He was convicted earlier this month of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy in Kennebunk, a quaint small town next door to the Bush family summer compound in Kennebunkport.

Prosecutors were seeking a 364-day jail term, while the defense asked for no more than 14 days in jail. In addition to the 20-day sentence, the judge also ordered Strong to pay a $3,000. The defense asked the judge to stay the sentence pending appeal.

Prosecutors said the married Strong cultivated a relationship with Alexis Wright and controlled the business, receiving Google calendar alerts for her appointments, reviewing Wright's ledgers, watching the encounters and running clients' license plate numbers through the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles database. He used his status as a private investigator to check out the plate numbers, they said.

He even had suggestions for maximizing profits, like seeking higher-paying fetish clients and suggesting sex with multiple clients, prosecutors said.

From his office 100 miles away, Strong watched the sexual encounters live via Skype, not just because he was a voyeur but also because he was both monitoring the operation and acting as Wright's protector, prosecutors said.

"Based on his sophisticated crime, his calculation in committing these crimes, his utter lack of remorse, the court should impose a sentence that gives fair warning that this type of criminal enterprise is not tolerated in Maine," prosecutors wrote before the sentencing.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, has acknowledged helping the 30-year-old Wright open her Kennebunk dance studio and having an affair with her. He says he loaned her money that was repaid with interest, and that he didn't profit from prostitution.

In court on Thursday, Strong apologized to his family and addressed prosecutors' claim that he had no remorse.

"I guess I'm the only who can know the remorse that I have. I do apologize for each of my selfish actions and the harm that I have caused many. Most importantly I want to apologize to my wife, my two sons and my entire family because I've caused so much hurt in so many ways, emotionally, physically and financially," he said, his voice choking.

His wife, Julie, arm-in-arm with their son Bradley, broke down in tears as she pleaded for leniency, saying her husband "suffers from an illness that is curable." She also said their marriage is better now that he's confronting his illness.

"What started as my worst nightmare I could ever imagine has turned into one of God's greatest gifts because God has given me a new marriage with a new man, and he is the man I always knew he was," Julie Strong told the judge. "When I first saw him and met him, I could see a kind and gentle soul. Nobody chooses to do what he does."

The judge ordered a recess, and the Strongs hugged each other.

Prosecutors said in their sentencing memo that Strong received 20 percent of revenues from Wright's operation, and email traffic between the two indicated paid sex acts continued even after police raided Wright's dance studio, office and home in Kennebunk.

All told, Wright is accused of bringing in more than $150,000 from prostitution over an 18-month period. She is due to stand trial in May.

Strong's attorneys described him as a community leader, husband and father who had no previous criminal record and poses no threat to society.

"Mark Strong is loved by his family and friends, who describe him as unfailingly generous, thoughtful, and extremely remorseful for how his poor personal decisions - and the resultant criminal charges and publicity - have negatively and perhaps irreparably impacted those closest to him," his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

The case has drawn wide attention because of the scale of the operation and the reported number of clients - more than 150 of them. People who've seen the list say some of Wright's clients were prominent. More than 60 have been charged so far.

Wright, who now lives in Wells, faces 106 counts, including prostitution, privacy violations, tax offenses and welfare fraud.

Defense lawyer Dan Lilley said prosecutors and law enforcement were overzealous because they thought they were onto a large enterprise but ended up with two defendants and an international media frenzy.

"The state wanted Moby Dick but got fish bait. This is relatively minor case that has become, or did become, a media event. The simple fact is that the media ... has already punished Mark Strong," Lilley said.