Judge refuses to rejoin trials in Zumba prostitution case

Alexis S. Wright, 29, of Wells listens in Cumberland County Superior Court Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012 where she was arraigned on 106 criminal charges.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Alexis S. Wright, 29, of Wells listens in Cumberland County Superior Court Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012 where she was arraigned on 106 criminal charges. Buy Photo
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 12, 2012, at 11:22 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills has denied a request by prosecutors to place both Alexis Wright and Mark Strong, who are accused of conspiring to run a prostitution business in Kennebunk, in a single trial.

Mills filed her decision with the court Wednesday, hours after the latest hearing in the case, in which Strong’s attorney called for the charges against him to be dismissed.

Mills previously had agreed to separate the trials as requested by the attorneys representing Wright and Strong, but prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office filed a subsequent motion urging the judge to reconsider the move.

But in her decision Wednesday, Mills wrote that the cases against Wright and Strong have been on different schedules all along and that investigators initially set the trajectory for split trials when they arrested Strong on prostitution-related charges in July but waited until October to indict Wright.

“[T]he Wright case is on a totally different time track than defendant Strong’s case, at least in the opinion of defense counsel,” Mills wrote, in part. “The court agrees. The state elected to charge defendant Strong by complaint dated [July 9, 2012]. No complaint was filed against defendant Wright. These charging decisions are important and have consequences.”

Investigators allege that the 29-year-old Wright, of Wells, ran a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk fitness studio with the help of Thomaston businessman Mark Strong, 57. Both suspects have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Strong’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, renewed arguments in a court hearing on Wednesday that the charges against his client should be thrown out because evidence against him is entirely “innuendo and hearsay.”

Lilley has claimed that, while investigators have long alleged that Wright kept meticulous records and a list of clients 150 names long, there’s little concrete evidence tying Strong to the operation.

He called for a separate trial for Strong in part because Wright is facing a slate of charges that are not tied to Strong’s case — such as tax evasion and welfare fraud — and that the presentation of evidence on charges such as those could unfairly prejudice the court against Strong.

Lilley also has pointed out that many of the 106 charges against Wright are felonies. Strong’s 59 charges are lesser misdemeanors.

Wright’s attorney, Sarah Churchill, called for split trials as well, noting that her client has made an off-the-record proffer to prosecutors that could be used against Strong.

York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan filed a motion for Mills to reconsider her decision to separate the trials, arguing that joined trials would be more efficient, and that much of the evidence supporting charges that Wright and Strong conspired in the operation would need to be presented in both cases.

But nearly a month after McGettigan’s Nov. 15 motion, Mills denied the request to rejoin the cases Wednesday.

Mills wrote that prosecutors first had an opportunity to voice concerns about separate trials during a Nov. 2 telephone conference in which attorneys for all parties discussed scheduling for the trials.

On Nov. 9, the court set official trial schedules in which Strong faces trial in January and Wright faces trial in May. With Wednesday’s decision, those schedules will hold.

In parallel legal action, police continue to regularly charge men as clients of the alleged prostitution business as they sift through evidence in the case. Thus far, 64 men have been charged with engaging a prostitute.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/12/12/news/judge-refuses-to-rejoin-trials-in-zumba-prostitution-case/ printed on October 24, 2014