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Wright wants more time for settlement talks in Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Alexis S. Wright, 29, of Wells listens to her attorney, Sarah Churchill in Cumberland County Superior Court Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012, when she was arraigned on 106 criminal charges.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

ALFRED, Maine — An attorney representing accused Kennebunk prostitute Alexis Wright wants a pretrial deadline extended to allow more time to engage in settlement talks with prosecutors in the high-profile case.

Mark Strong Sr., her alleged co-conspirator, was sentenced Thursday to 20 days in jail for his part in the alleged prostitution business the pair operated out of Wright’s Kennebunk Zumba studio.

Strong’s attorneys, Daniel Lilley and Tina Nadeau, have announced plans to file an appeal in his case. Strong was also ordered to pay a total of $3,000 in fines Thursday for his March 6 conviction on 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.

Wright — who faces 106 counts including prostitution, privacy invasion, tax evasion and welfare fraud — is scheduled for a separate trial to begin later this spring if no plea deal is reached first.

Sarah Churchill, representing Wright, filed a motion this week to buy more time for those settlement negotiations to play out. The Zumba instructor currently faces a March 26 deadline for all pretrial motions to be submitted to the court.

In Churchill’s motion, posted online by the Maine Judicial System Wednesday, the attorney is requesting the court push that deadline out to April 16. A settlement conference which began on March 13 is not slated to reconvene for continuation until March 29, Churchill wrote in her motion, and the extra time would accommodate those additional talks.

Churchill wrote that prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office and state attorney general’s office do not object to the extended deadline.

“The parties agree that settlement negotiations should be fully explored and completed prior to the expenditure of resources on pretrial motions,” she wrote, in part.

During the trial of Mark Strong Sr., prosecutors introduced client ledgers — listing the names of alleged johns, dates of appointments, sex acts rendered and amounts charged — allegedly kept by Wright as well as video recordings of some of those encounters. In one 45-minute stretch of video, Wright can be seen welcoming a man into her office, engaging in multiple sex acts with him, discussing her rates and accepting $250 in payment for the encounter.

At least 18 men who have been convicted of paying Wright for sex in the case were also on the prosecution’s witness list in the Strong case, although none were ultimately called to testify.

The prosecutors in the Wright case — led by York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan and Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon — are the same as those that prosecuted Strong, and would likely seek to introduce the same explicit evidence in her trial as they did in Strong’s, if not more.

McGettigan told the court in the Thomaston man’s trial they could have brought hundreds of additional hours of similarly incriminating video if they needed to in order to establish that there was prostitution going on for Strong to be promoting.

But while Strong’s defense attorneys acknowledged the prostitution — and tried to distance him from the alleged operation by saying that although he had an affair with Wright, he played no role in her prostitution — Churchill has said she has a different trial strategy planned than Lilley.

“My theory of things is a different theory than Lilley’s, which is one of the reasons I wanted the cases severed in the first place,” she told the York County Coast Star earlier this month.

Churchill has said she plans to follow Strong’s attorneys down one of their trodden paths, however.

Before Strong went to trial, his attorneys were able to get 46 counts of privacy invasion thrown out by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills in a decision that was later upheld against a prosecution appeal by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Churchill has indicated that she also plans to seek the dismissal of the 46 privacy invasion charges against Wright, following on that precedent. If she’s successful, that would reduce the number of counts against her client by more than 43 percent.

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