PORTLAND, Maine — Mark Strong Sr. has been convicted of promoting prostitution in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case, but three days before his scheduled sentencing, his attorneys are trying again to get the charges wiped out.
Defense attorneys in the Strong case filed a motion seeking arrest of judgment in the case, urging Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills to reverse the conviction on the grounds that the charges against him were too vague to defend against.
Strong’s attorneys made similar arguments just before closing statements in the trial on March 5, at the time seeking an acquittal of the Thomaston insurance broker and part-time private investigator.
But Mills denied that motion, accepting arguments from the York County district attorney’s office that prosecutors have the leeway to amend their indictment at any point until a verdict is reached, if the court were to decide the charges are not specific enough.
Assistant York County District Attorney Patrick Gordon at the time also argued that Strong’s attorneys had never sought a bill of particulars, a document which would have provided more details on the charges, if they wanted more information.
Strong is accused of conspiring with Kennebunk fitness instructor Alexis Wright to run a prostitution business out of her Zumba studio in a case that has attracted worldwide media attention. Wright allegedly kept a list of more than 150 johns, including nearly 70 who have been charged in the case and some who are prominent local officials.
Wright is engaged in ongoing settlement talks with prosecutors. Her trial is scheduled to begin in May, if no plea agreement is reached.
On March 6, Strong was found guilty on all 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.
In the month leading up to and through his trial, Strong’s defense attorneys sought dismissals of all or most of the charges on at least seven occasions. Only once were they successful. On Jan. 25, Mills granted a pretrial motion to throw out all 46 privacy invasion charges against Strong, a decision that was later upheld in the face of a prosecution appeal by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Now, defense attorney Daniel Lilley is asking Mills again to leave the 12 promotion of prostitution charges alongside the privacy invasion counts on the cutting room floor.
In his Monday motion, Lilley reiterated the case his team made during its March 5 acquittal argument, this time with the verdict having been rendered. Lilley argued again on Monday that Strong’s indictment, which simply counted 12 instances in which Strong allegedly “did knowingly promote prostitution as defined” in Maine law. Lilley is not challenging the conspiracy count.
The defense attorney revived arguments in his latest motion that Maine law includes seven possible ways in which “promotion” can be defined, leaving the indictment too vague to be legal.
“Defendant Strong has never been informed as to what type, or subsection, of promotion he was accused of committing,” Lilley’s Monday motion reads, in part. “There is no way to tell from the face of the indictment what Defendant Strong allegedly did to break the law. These 12 counts are so broadly alleged as to be inscrutable.”
Among the ways prostitution can be promoted, as defined by Maine law, are “publicly soliciting patrons,” “receiving a [financial] benefit from … the proceeds of prostitution,” or “permitting a place … to be regularly used for prostitution.” Another subsection of the definition simply defines promotion as “causing or aiding another to commit or engage in prostitution, other than as a patron.”
Lilley argued throughout the trial that prosecutors had no evidence that Strong sought customers for the alleged operation or that he profited from it.
But Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan countered during the trial that Strong did not need to solicit johns or make money out of the deal in order to be guilty of promotion. She introduced text message and email evidence that Strong and Wright corresponded regularly about the alleged prostitution, trading comments about ledgers detailing appointments with clients, sexual services provided and amounts charged.
In his latest motion Monday, Lilley cited a 1977 prostitution promotion indictment for Harry “Slim Goodie” Sampson which passed muster with the law court in terms of clarity.
That indictment claims that on a specific date, Sampson “did knowingly promote the prostitution of a person less than 18 years of age … in that he did agree to accept a pecuniary benefit, namely … [$150], pursuant to an agreement and understanding with [the prostitute], she not being a patron, whereby he was to participate in the proceeds of prostitution.”
Lilley argued that the Sampson indictment, as an example of what the Maine Supreme Judicial Court would accept in terms of detail, contrasts with the counts in the Strong indictment.
In his motion, Lilley continued to write that a juror expressed concerns to the court at one point that she did not understand what “promotion” meant, and argued others on the jury may have been similarly confused about what charges they were deciding upon.
However, Gordon argued in court that no other jury candidates in the initial pool expressed those same concerns.
“If only one juror out of 250 misunderstood, I’d say the charges are clear,” he argued before Mills on March 5.
Strong is due to be sentenced on Thursday at Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland. He could face up to a year in jail and fines on each of the misdemeanor counts. If Lilley’s motion to arrest judgment is granted, he will be sentenced on only one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution. If the motion is denied, he will be sentenced on an additional 12 counts of promotion of prostitution.