Police witness denies top investigator in Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case had unlawful sexual contact with child

Mark W. Strong Sr., 57, in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012.
Mark W. Strong Sr., 57, in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 26, 2013, at 8:42 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 26, 2013, at 3:22 p.m.

ALFRED, Maine — A lieutenant with the Kennebunk Police Department told attorneys in the Zumba prostitution trial Tuesday that 2011 allegations that a fellow officer had unlawful sexual contact with a child were “unfounded.”

Defense attorneys in the first of two major trials in the high-profile Kennebunk case aim to undercut the credibility of town police Officer Audra Presby, who led the department’s investigation into the alleged prostitution business. Daniel Lilley, representing Mark Strong Sr., has argued that his client was pulled into the prostitution investigation as retaliation for research he was doing into alleged misconduct by members of the force, including Presby.

According to an October 2012 news release by Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee, Presby received a written reprimand for a 2009 affair she had with married then-supervisor Nicholas Higgins, but police denied that Strong’s research into the incident had any bearing on the prostitution investigation.

Strong, a Thomaston insurance salesman and part-time private investigator, faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution in connection with his alleged role in a prostitution business run out of Alexis Wright’s Kennebunk Zumba fitness studio. Wright faces a separate trial scheduled to begin later this spring.

During a discovery hearing on Tuesday morning, for which the jury was not present, Kennebunk police Lt. Daniel Jones told Lilley he received an Aug. 1, 2011, protection from abuse order against Presby from Melissa Higgins, Nicholas’ ex-wife, alleging inappropriate contact with the former couple’s 5-year-old child.

Jones told the court he discussed the allegations at the time with Presby, but a Maine State Police investigation into the accusations found “no criminal action” on the part of the Kennebunk officer.

“She told me that she washed the child, in his privates and everywhere else, and that was the only time she had contact with his penis,” Jones told Lilley.

The morning hearing at the York County courthouse, before the jury arrived for the fifth day of testimony in the trial, was scheduled to determine whether any paper trail still exists referencing the affair or regarding the allegations against Presby.

“We never opened an internal affairs investigation, because of that, we never had a file to put it in,” Jones told Lilley. “If the state police had charged her — or even found something — then we would have opened an internal investigation.”

Lilley also questioned Kennebunk Chief Robert MacKenzie, seeking records about an incident in which he accidentally shot himself in the leg and another about a shooting several years ago of a knife-wielding woman by Kennebunk Officer Joshua Morneau, in the session. MacKenzie said both incidents were documented in his and Morneau’s personnel files.

Lt. Bean Burpee told the media in October the Morneau shooting was deemed justified after a state attorney general’s office investigation at the time.

Lilley said on Tuesday that Strong was investigating Presby and the two shootings when he was arrested in the prostitution case.

MacKenzie and Presby may take the witness stand to testify before the jury as early as Wednesday in the case.

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