ALFRED, Maine — The top local investigator in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case testified Monday she was “shocked” to find notes about her and other members of the town Police Department during a July 2012 search of Mark Strong Sr.’s Thomaston office.
Interactions between attorneys in the Strong trial Monday continued in the adversarial tones heard Friday. Kennebunk police Patrol Officer Audra Presby returned to the witness stand for a third day, and defense attorneys continued to hammer their view that she and other police charged Strong as retaliation in the case.
Strong, a Thomaston insurance broker and part-time private investigator, is on trial on 12 counts of prostitution promotion and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution. He is alleged to have conspired with fitness instructor Alexis Wright to run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio.
The combative tenor that marked Presby’s cross-examination Friday resumed quickly Monday morning.
York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan continued regular objections of questions defense attorney Daniel Lilley asked of Presby, saying Strong’s team is indirectly trying to convince jurors that the defendant had discovered embarrassing information about the police without making Strong take the witness stand himself to say so.
At one point, the line of questions posed by Lilley about whether Presby knew about Strong and his alleged investigation, and McGettigan’s objections to those questions, came in such rapid succession it was difficult to determine which came first.
“Are you going to object before I ask a question?” Lilley asked McGettigan. “Can I ask a question before you jump up and object?”
The crossfire between attorneys even cut off the judge presiding over the case.
“Can I speak?” Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills shot at Lilley at one point while he argued against the continued objections.
Mills sustained many of the objections, but allowed Lilley to explore Presby’s reactions to evidence she discovered in the case in order to determine whether she approached her prosecution investigation with a bias.
Presby acknowledged during cross-examination that she discovered notebooks featuring notes referencing her and other Kennebunk police during a July 2012 search of Strong’s Thomaston insurance agency. She admitted that the notes referenced an affair Presby had in 2009 with married then-supervisor Nicholas Higgins. Lilley also asked the officer to further acknowledge a protection from abuse order filed against her by Higgins’ former wife alleging Presby had inappropriate sexual contact with the former couple’s 5-year-old child.
Strong and Lilley have maintained he was pulled into the prostitution case as police retaliation for the research he was doing into Presby and other members of the department.
The defense attorney asked Presby what she “concluded” when seeing the notes in question at Strong’s business.
“I was quite taken back, honestly,” Presby responded. “I had never seen this man, and yet my name and [those of] my fellow officers were all over his legal pad. It was quite shocking.”
But under continued questioning, Presby said she believed the notes indicated Strong had begun investigating the police only after police conducted a search of alleged co-conspirator Wright’s Kennebunk properties five months earlier.
Presby later testified under subsequent questioning by prosecutors that images taken of her and Kennebunk police Chief Robert MacKenzie, including a closeup of her badge, during their search of Wright’s properties were found on Strong’s computer, indicating to her that Strong was aware of the searches and had been given identifying information about the individuals conducting it.
She also acknowledged to prosecutors that the protection order was dismissed.
Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee in October 2012 told reporters that Presby received a written reprimand for the 2009 affair and that Higgins left the department at the time. Bean Burpee said in a news release that the misconduct was covered in the local media three years earlier, and that police had nothing to gain by attempting to cover it up during the Strong investigation.
Other witnesses called by the defense Monday afternoon were Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie, Detective David Jamieson and Bean Burpee.
Under defense questioning, Jamieson and Bean Burpee testified they recalled little about Presby’s affair or any subsequent internal investigation, and neither said he played a significant role in the prostitution investigation.
MacKenzie acknowledged being told about Strong’s notebooks, and that he was referenced in the notes, but said the defendant’s suggested research into past police misconduct did not affect the department’s handling of the prostitution case.
“I had no idea and I wondered why I was [referenced in Strong’s notes],” MacKenzie told the court. “But I had no reaction to it.”
The prostitution case has attracted global media attention in part because of a client list allegedly kept by Wright naming more than 150 individuals who paid for sex, including a number of prominent local men. Nearly 70 people have been charged with engaging a prostitute in the case.
Wright faces a separate trial scheduled to begin later this spring.