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Prosecutors say Strong shows ‘utter lack of remorse,’ want sentence of 364 days in jail, $24,000 fine in Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case

Gregory Rec | Pool/PPH
Gregory Rec | Pool/PPH
Mark Strong Sr. (left) and co-counsel Tina Nadeau listen to Daniel Lilley address Justice Nancy Mills on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at York County Superior Court in Alfred.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Attorneys representing Mark Strong Sr. say he should spend little or no time in jail for his role in a high-profile alleged Kennebunk prostitution business.

Prosecutors, saying Strong displays “an utter lack of remorse,” are countering with a recommended sentence of at least 364 days behind bars and fines up to $24,000.

Strong is due to be sentenced Thursday morning by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills at the Cumberland County courthouse in Portland. On March 6, he was convicted by a jury of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday morning, defense attorneys Tina Nadeau and Daniel Lilley stated that prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office extended a final offer of 14 days in jail and fines between $2,000 and $5,000 if Strong pleaded guilty to all counts before closing arguments in his 10-day trial.

Strong turned down the plea deal and left his fate in the hands of the jury, which found him guilty across the board. The Thomaston insurance agent and part-time private investigator allegedly helped fitness instructor Alexis Wright run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio. Wright, who is engaged in ongoing settlement talks with prosecutors, faces a separate trial scheduled to begin in May if no plea agreement is reached.

In the Strong case, Nadeau and Lilley claim in their Wednesday memorandum that the district attorney’s office has, “on more than one occasion, indicated that it would seek consecutive sentences for these convictions.”

With up to a year of possible jail time for each of the 12 Class D promotion counts and up to six months for the Class E conspiracy count, that means prosecutors could have sought nearly 12½ years of jail time in addition to a maximum total of $25,000 in fines.

In their sentencing memorandum filed later Wednesday, prosecutors stopped short of recommending a stack of consecutive sentences. But York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan and Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon urged the court to impose a 364-day jail term, with a concurrent 180-day jail sentence for the conspiracy count, and an additional two consecutive 364-day sentences that would be suspended.

That means Strong would spend less than a year behind bars — the concurrent jail term means he would serve that sentence simultaneously with the longer sentence, and the suspended sentences would likely only be enforced if Strong got in trouble with the law again in the near future.

However, McGettigan and Gordon did seek nearly the maximum in fines, calling for $2,000 for each of the promotion counts, totaling $24,000.

After the jury reached a verdict, McGettigan told reporters that while Strong had no previous criminal record, her office would consider whether the Thomaston businessman “shows remorse” for the crimes in developing its sentence recommendations.

In her memorandum Wednesday, McGettigan said the prosecution believes it is clear Strong has not. She highlighted the defense argument used throughout the trial, that Strong was unfairly pulled into the Kennebunk police’s prostitution investigation as payback for researching past misconduct of department members.

“Just as his prostitution business was carefully and shrewdly run, so too was his public campaign to shift the focus from him and his misdeeds and instead to create a straw man of a police conspiracy against him and an overreaching prosecution,” the prosecution memorandum reads, in part. “This calculated strategy by Mark Strong Sr. shows his utter lack of remorse for the crimes he has committed. Prostitution is against the law in Maine and to promote it is also against the law.”

Prosecutors in their filing also responded to the theory that Strong might deserve a lesser sentence because prosecution is a “victimless crime.”

“Society is aware that promotion of prostitution and prostitution often result in the use of drugs, violence, and result in human trafficking,” the prosecutors wrote. “In this case by promoting prostitution, the defendant encouraged many men to engage in unsafe sex acts with his co-conspirator.”

But defense attorneys in the case are urging Mills to use the prosecution’s last plea agreement offer as her high-water mark in the sentencing, and that’s what Lilley and Nadeau are hoping will be a worst-case scenario.

The defense filed a motion Monday renewing arguments that the 12 promotion of prostitution counts should be thrown out post-conviction by the court on the grounds that the charges were too vaguely stated to be legal in the prosecution’s indictment.

The defense used the same argument seeking a late-trial acquittal on March 5 before the case was handed over to the jury for deliberations, but Mills denied the motion at that time.

If Mills accepts the argument this time around and arrests judgment on the 12 disputed counts, Lilley and Nadeau wrote in their Wednesday memorandum, Strong’s sentence should be no more than a $1,000 fine, with no jail time.

The defense attorneys on Wednesday also revived arguments from another unsuccessful March 5 motion, in which they argued that because the first count of promotion of prostitution was listed as covering a nearly two-year period from 2010-2012, the additional 11 counts, which list individual monthlong stretches within that overarching time period, are redundant and should be dismissed.

Nadeau and Lilley wrote that, if Mills does not toss the 12 promotion counts outright, she should only sentence Strong on the one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution and one count of promoting prostitution. The defense attorneys argue the sentence in that case should be no more than 14 days in jail and $2,000 in fines.

The case has attracted worldwide media attention, in part because Wright allegedly kept a list of more than 150 johns, including nearly 70 who have been charged in the case.

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. He argued again that Strong’s indictment, which simply counted 12 instances in which Strong allegedly “did knowingly promote prostitution as defined” in Maine law. Lilley did not challenge the conspiracy count in that motion.

Lilley wrote Monday that Maine law includes seven possible ways in which “promotion” can be defined, leaving the indictment too vague to be legal.

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 McGettigan from the district attorney’s office 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 her memorandum filed Wednesday, McGettigan went a step further and alleged that Strong did, in fact, profit from the prostitution, writing that the Thomaston man deposited 20 percent of the proceeds from the business while Wright allegedly took the other 80 percent. Prosecutors alleged in the memorandum that the operation generated $150,000 in revenue during the two-year period.

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