PORTLAND, Maine — A Superior Court justice scolded state prosecutors Tuesday for disorganized and inaccessible evidence — including what a prosecutor said were indications of child pornography — against Mark Strong and his alleged associate Alexis Wright. The two are being accused of running a prostitution business out of Wright’s Kennebunk fitness studio.
The admonition from Justice Nancy Mills came during a Cumberland County Superior Court hearing in Portland.
Both Wright and Strong pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges tied to the alleged prostitution during their arraignments Tuesday, which took place concurrently in Portland.
Daniel Lilley, the attorney representing Strong, told Mills during the hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court that a “mish-mash” of documents piled into boxes, as well as a computer hard drive, had been delivered to his office as evidence against his client by prosecutors. But he said he and his associates have struggled to correlate the documents in the boxes with an accompanying index, and have further been unable to access the videos, photographs and other incriminating evidence prosecutors allege are on the hard drive.
Lilley based a motion to dismiss the charges against his client on what he described as the state’s inability to comply with the court’s demand to turn over its evidence against his client.
Mills did not rule on the motion to dismiss, but did admonish prosecutors on their delivery of the evidence to Lilley, calling for a discovery conference to take place between all parties on Oct. 18, at which all documents must be clearly labeled and sorted in such a way that the defense attorneys can follow them. She also suggested that the necessary technology be made available for the defense attorneys to access the hard drive, which prosecutors said contained eight terabytes of data, including videos, photographs and e-mails.
“At some point, the defendant’s rights will come into play, if they haven’t already,” Mills said. “This is unacceptable for the defendants to be indicted and then to be handed a box of documents like this.”
While Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, representing the state in court Tuesday, disagreed that the evidence so far turned over has been disorganized, she acknowledged that prosecutors are withholding some evidence, including a computer in which she said investigators found “markers” indicating the presence of child pornography.
Lilley and Strong shook their heads in apparent disbelief at the reference in court. After leaving the courthouse, Lilley bristled at the mention of child pornography, saying prosecutors had previously told him in writing there was no such evidence on any of the eight computers investigators had seized.
“There is no child pornography in this case,” he told reporters, adding that McGettigan’s comment is a sign that state prosecutors are “flip-flopping” and don’t fully understand their own case.
Strong, 57, was indicted last week on 59 criminal charges. Those include 12 counts of promotion of prostitution, two counts of conspiracy and 45 counts of invasion of privacy with an inside device. The latter charges refer to the clients of the business being videotaped without their knowledge or consent. All the charges, except the two conspiracy counts, are Class D offenses which carry a maximum jail sentence of a year in jail. The conspiracy counts are Class E crimes which carry a maximum penalty of six months in jail.
Wright, 29, was indicted on 106 criminal charges. Those include failure to pay taxes in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Other offenses include engaging in prostitution, promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy with an inside device, conspiracy, unsworn falsification, evasion of income tax and felony theft.
Mills is overseeing the high-profile prostitution case after Justice Joyce Wheeler recused herself from the case, in which more than 100 individuals are alleged to have been clients of the operation.
After the hearing Tuesday, Strong and Wright left the courtroom separately without speaking to each other or members of the media.
BDN reporter Stephen Betts contributed to this story.