Prostitution at Kennebunk Zumba studio linked to Thomaston businessman, police say

Posted July 11, 2012, at 12:38 p.m.
Last modified July 11, 2012, at 7:51 p.m.
Mark Strong
Knox County Jail
Mark Strong
The Pura Vida/Zumba Studio in Kennebunk has been the focus of an investigation by Kennebunk police into suspicious activities, including possible prostitution, that began in September 2011.
The Pura Vida/Zumba Studio in Kennebunk has been the focus of an investigation by Kennebunk police into suspicious activities, including possible prostitution, that began in September 2011.
The Pura Vida/Zumba Studio in Kennebunk has been the focus of an investigation by Kennebunk police into suspicious activities, including possible prostitution, that began in September 2011.
The Pura Vida/Zumba Studio in Kennebunk has been the focus of an investigation by Kennebunk police into suspicious activities, including possible prostitution, that began in September 2011.
Thomaston Police Sgt. Tim Hoppe (left) and Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj stand outside a home on Knox Street in Thomaston on Tuesday afternoon, July 10, 2012, as state police search the home.
Thomaston Police Sgt. Tim Hoppe (left) and Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj stand outside a home on Knox Street in Thomaston on Tuesday afternoon, July 10, 2012, as state police search the home.

THOMASTON, Maine — A Thomaston insurance company owner had a significant business and personal connection to a dance studio in Kennebunk where police allege that prostitution was being promoted for more than a year.

Mark W. Strong Sr., 57, was arrested Tuesday afternoon in Thomaston and charged with the Class D offense of promotion of prostitution. That offense carries a maximum jail term of a year in jail.

He was released from the Knox County Jail Tuesday on $5,000 bail.

The investigation began in September when Kennebunk police received anonymous telephone calls from citizens who believed there were suspicious activities going on at the Pura Vida/Zumba Studio at 8 York St. in Kennebunk, according to the affidavit filed in Biddeford District Court for the arrest of Strong.

Police officials received additional rumors that there was possible prostitution going on at the studio.

Police have not responded to requests for more information about whether any other people would be charged in connection with the case.

Witnesses who work near the studio reported that motor vehicles would pull up to the rear of the studio day and night with men going inside the building for about 30 minutes to an hour at a time, according to the affidavit in the Strong case.

In December, a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agent placed a telephone call, that was recorded, and made an appointment in which a woman, identified as the studio owner, agreed to engage in sexual conduct for money. While the woman is identified in the affidavit, the Bangor Daily News is not naming her because she has not been charged.

The landlord of a building at 1 High St. in Kennebunk contacted police in February and said that he had received reports from other business tenants of a lot of “moaning and groaning” from the office space and that they also reported men stopping there for 30 minutes to an hour. According to the affidavit, that second-floor office had been rented by the Zumba studio owner. The two buildings — one at 1 High and the other at 8 York — are close to each other in Kennebunk, separated only by a street.

The landlord at 1 High St. said he went to the office space one time in February and saw a massage table and a camcorder on a tripod. The landlord said he also found a website where the woman was performing a sexual act on herself and recognized the surroundings as the building he owns.

Based on this information, police obtained search warrants and, on Feb. 14, searched the studio at 8 York St., the office at 1 High St. and the zumba instructor’s home in Wells.

Police seized electronic client ledgers which included video recordings of the woman performing sex acts on males without the males reportedly being aware of the recordings, according to the affidavit. The ledgers listed detailed records of payments and police found that the acts generated income of about $150,000, according to the affidavit which attributes the amount to the woman’s Maine tax filings.

The review of those records determined that Strong had a significant business and personal connection to these illegal acts, according to the affidavit. The police said they found significant bank records, insurance documents and telephone records of the connection.

On a video seized by police, the woman is talking on Skype with Strong and is asking him to run motor vehicle registration information.

The affidavit further states that Strong, who also is a private investigator, has used the Bureau of Motor Vehicle records, to query potential clients for the woman and other individuals.

In addition, the affidavit states that there was video footage of the woman and Strong engaging in multiple sexual activities with each other.

The criminal complaint against Strong states that he had knowingly promoted prostitution in Kennebunk from October 2010 through February 2012.

When asked Wednesday why the woman had not yet been arrested, Lt. Anthony J. Bean Burpee of the Kennebunk Police Department said the investigation continues. He added that police expect additional charges to be filed against “a lot of people.”

When asked why Strong had been arrested now, the lieutenant said, “He is connected to this and seems to be a major player.”

Burpee said search warrants executed at the studio and offices in Kennebunk and at the woman’s home in Wells have been sealed and are likely to remain so until August or September.

Contacted at her home in Wells on Wednesday, the woman seemed surprised at the news of Strong’s arrest. She read a copy of the affidavit while standing on her porch and when asked to make a comment afterward, replied “I’m pretty sure my lawyer wouldn’t want me to.”

The studio in Kennebunk was locked and the interior appeared empty on Wednesday morning. Bee Nguyen, the owner of the 8 York St. building and landlord, said that Mark Strong was a co-signer on the five-year lease for the studio space.

A telephone message left for Strong at his insurance agency Wednesday was not returned.

Given the complexity of the investigation as it moved forward, Kennebunk police said, the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit was contacted for assistance and several Maine State Police detectives were assigned to the case to aid Kennebunk investigators. Additionally, other agencies

involved in the investigation included the Saco Police Department, Maine Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Attorney General’s Office, Maine Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Service.

Bangor Daily News writer Matt Wickenheiser contributed to this report.

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