PORTLAND, Maine – Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills sentenced Mark Strong Sr. to 20 days in jail, starting immediately, and a total of $3,000 in fines for his role in an alleged Kennebunk prostitution business.
After hearing emotional testimony Thursday from Strong and his wife, Julie, Mills said that despite previous defense efforts to describe the case as police payback against the Thomaston insurance broker, “I am satisfied that he does accept responsibility.”
Before Julie Strong stepped up to testify on her husband’s behalf, Mark Strong Sr. himself took the lectern and cried as he told the court that, “I guess I’m the only one to know the remorse I have for all my selfish actions and the harm that I’ve caused.”
“During all this time, I’ve asked, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and ‘Why am I living through this hell?’ when I should have been taking responsibility for what I’d done and how much harm I’ve caused,” Strong said.
Mark Strong Sr. apologized to his wife and children.
“I let myself justify what I had done,” he said. “I will no longer justify my actions, and I will take all responsibility for what I’ve done.”
Julie Strong said the high-profile prostitution case in which her husband was convicted earlier this month began as a nightmare, but helped reform the Thomaston businessman.
Mills denied bail and ordered the sentence to begin immediately. She also ordered that Strong pay $80 per day to cover the costs of room and board at the York County jail.
Defense attorney Daniel Lilley said he plans to file an appeal in the case. He asked for bail to be granted to allow Strong to be free until the appeal plays out, but Mills denied the request.
The dispute over bail played out in a brief, but uncharacteristically terse exchange between the defense attorney and judge.
“Denial of bail on misdemeanor charges is unheard of,” Lilley told Mills, later adding, “With all due respect, I think you’ve made a judicial error.”
Mills quickly responded: “That is not true.”
“This has been the pattern in this trial,” the judge added. “I make a ruling, and then we go over it again, and we go over it again, and we go over it again. … I have made a ruling on bail. I am not going to reconsider it.”
The crossfire with Lilley came after Mills absorbed emotional testimony from Strong and his wife.
“I plead with you to go easy on my husband,” Julie Strong said to the judge. “He truly has learned from this experience.
“What started as my worst nightmare I could ever imagine has turned into God’s greatest gift, because it’s given me a new marriage and a new husband, who is the man I always knew he was,” she continued.
Mills called for a brief recess in the hearing about 9:45 a.m. so Julie Strong, who was accompanied at the lectern by one of the couple’s sons, could collect herself. The judge did not decide on a sentence before the recess but did soon after returning from the break.
Prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office, saying Strong showed no remorse for his crimes and tried to shift blame onto police and prosecutors, recommended 364 days in jail with a concurrent 180-day sentence for the conspiracy charge and two consecutive suspended 36-day sentences added on. Prosecutors also sought $2,000 in fines for each promotion count, adding up to a $24,000 penalty.
Defense attorneys Lilley and Tina Nadeau had sought 14 days or fewer in jail with a total of $2,000 in fines. Earlier in the morning Thursday, Mills had denied a postconviction motion to throw out the 12 promotion of prostitution counts on the grounds that they were not adequately described in the prosecution indictment.
During the Thursday sentencing hearing, Lilley renewed attempts to cast the prostitution case as overkill by law enforcement and prosecutors. He said a short jail sentence would send a message to prosecutors in the future to avoid “such a prosecutorial binge.”
“The state in this case wanted Moby Dick and they got fish bait,” Lilley told the court, adding that the intense media coverage garnered by the case humiliated Strong and his family and destroyed his Thomaston insurance business.
“The media, intentionally or otherwise, has already sentenced Mark Strong,” the defense attorney told Mills. “For the punishment he’s already received in this case, his sentence should be ‘time served.’”
But prosecutors on Thursday morning pushed for a longer jail term, saying the emotional testimony in court represented his first signs of remorse after arguing throughout the case the police were targeting him for retaliation over research he was doing into past misconduct by department members.
“If the defendant gets up and elocutes today that he’s sorry — the facts show that he is not sorry, that he doesn’t believe he committed any crimes,” York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan told the court.
Strong was charged with helping part-time fitness instructor Alexis Wright run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio.
Wright, who is engaged in settlement talks with prosecutors, faces a separate trial, which is scheduled to begin in May if no plea agreement is reached.
During her delivery of a sentence for Strong, Justice Mills took a moment to commend the efforts of the district attorney’s office and Kennebunk police, which she said unfairly faced credibility attacks at the hands of the defense during the case.
“You have been told that you’re over your head, that you were overreaching, and you’ve been called other things that we need not repeat here,” Mills told McGettigan and Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon, adding that the prosecutors “took the high road” by not talking to reporters and fueling the media frenzy during the trial.
“Your command of the evidence was remarkable,” Mills told McGettigan.
Also in court Thursday morning were several representatives of the Kennebunk Police Department, including Chief Robert MacKenzie, Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee and Patrol Officer Audra Presby, who was the lead local investigator on the case and whose admitted 2009 affair with a supervisor was heavily scrutinized by the defense during the trial.
“You have been disparaged. Difficulties in your department have been exposed, but it appears those difficulties were properly dealt with according to department policy,” Mills told the police in attendance. “The jury was not convinced of improper motive on the part of the police department, and in the end, there was no evidence to prove that.”