Businessman to be sentenced in Zumba paid-sex case

Associated Press
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)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An insurance agent accused of running a prostitution operation with a Zumba fitness instructor apologized for his actions and for the pain he'd caused ahead of sentencing Thursday for what prosecutors described as an elaborate and high-tech house of prostitution in a small coastal town.

Mark Strong Sr. was convicted this month of 12 counts of promoting prostitution and a separate conspiracy count. Prosecutors were seeking a 364-day jail term for Strong while the defense asked for no more than 14 days in jail.

Prosecutors said Strong, who is married, cultivated a relationship with fitness instructor Alexis Wright and controlled the prostitution operation in Kennebunk, receiving Google calendar alerts for her appointments, reviewing Wright's ledgers, recording the encounters on video, suggesting ways to maximize profits, and running clients' license plate numbers through the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles database.

From his office 100 miles away, Strong watched the sexual encounters live via Skype, not just because he was a voyeur but because he was both monitoring the business 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," the prosecutors wrote.

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, and that email traffic between the two indicated paid sex acts continued even after police raided Wright's dance studio, office and home in Kennebunk.

He used his business acumen to set up a sophisticated business, and he sought to minimize his conduct and failed to show any no remorse, Deputy York County District Attorney Justina McGettigan told Justice Nancy Mills.

"This was not a man in love. This was not a voyeur. This was hard-nosed businessman," she said.

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.

Strong's lawyers previously asked the judge to invalidate 12 of the 13 counts against their client, arguing that prosecutors never spelled out specifically how Strong's actions promoted prostitution and that the charges overlap.

If the judge dismisses the counts, Strong should not be sentenced to jail at all, his lawyers argued. If all 13 guilty verdicts stand, then he should be sentenced only to 14 days in jail, they say.

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," Lilley wrote.

The case has drawn wide attention because of the scale of the operation and the number of alleged 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.


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