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Cable network TLC to air documentary ‘Sex, Lies and Zumba’ about Kennebunk prostitution case

Posted July 31, 2013, at 5:51 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 01, 2013, at 10:15 a.m.

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Alexis S. Wright, 29, of Wells listens in Cumberland County Superior Court on Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012 where she was arraigned on 106 criminal charges.
Alexis S. Wright, 29, of Wells listens in Cumberland County Superior Court on Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012 where she was arraigned on 106 criminal charges.
Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby (right) and York County Deputy District Justina McGettigan speak to reporters outside the York County Courthouse in Alfred on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, after a jury convicted Mark Strong on 12 counts of promoting prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.
Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby (right) and York County Deputy District Justina McGettigan speak to reporters outside the York County Courthouse in Alfred on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, after a jury convicted Mark Strong on 12 counts of promoting prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Cable television network TLC, home to shows such as “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Strange Sex,” will air an hourlong documentary next Tuesday about the Kennebunk prostitution case that became a media sensation in the fall of 2012.

In that case, police say Zumba instructor Alexis Wright used her Kennebunk fitness studio and office to host as many as 140 clients willing to pay for sex, all while business partner and Thomaston insurance broker Mark Strong Sr. watched the encounters live through a hidden Internet camera.

News of the operation attracted media outlets from around the world to the otherwise quiet seaside Maine town.

The TLC documentary about the scandal was developed by British production company Raw TV, which deployed two representatives to Maine on four occasions from February through June of this year collecting footage, interviewing local people with opinions on the case and sitting through countless court proceedings.

Among the individuals interviewed by Raw TV was the BDN reporter responsible for this article.

“It’s a pretty crazy story that got more and more crazy the more we looked into it, and it remained crazy right to the very end,” documentary director Nick Angel told the BDN by phone Wednesday from Great Britain.

The documentary is titled “Sex, Lies and Zumba,” and it is scheduled to be broadcast at 10 p.m. Aug. 6. A trailer for the program begins with a narrator saying, “This small town thought Zumba was just a dance craze, but some were getting more than a workout.”

TLC has promoted a Twitter hashtag to follow social media chatter about the piece, as well: #SexLiesZumba.

Among the people who appear on camera in the trailer are local pizza parlor manager Dan Racaniello, who said during the trial of Strong that Wright tried to seduce him one night when he delivered a spaghetti meal to her house, and Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby, whose credibility was attacked by defense attorneys in part because of a reprimand she had previously received for an affair with a supervisor.

Also shown in the trailer is one of Wright’s clients, whose face is shadowed to hide his identity. Nearly 70 so-called johns were charged in the prostitution case, and Kennebunk police have said they may still charge more as they comb through massive amounts of evidence collected from the offices of Wright and Strong.

Investigators have said the duo kept detailed records, including an alleged list of more than 140 clients, some of whom were long rumored to be prominent local community members. Of those who have been officially charged with engaging a prostitute, one was a former South Portland mayor while another was the former chairman of the Portland Planning Board.

“It begins as sort of a humorous story,” Angel said. “It sounds like a sort of French farce at the beginning because it’s so far-fetched. It initially seems like quite a comical story, but I think anything involving prostitution and then the public humiliation people experienced, there’s always a human story behind that. I hope that we managed to convey that human element.

“There were at least 67 or 68 lives turned upside down by this,” he said. “There’s nothing humorous about that.”

Strong was sentenced to 20 days in jail after a jury convicted him in March on 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution. He was released after only 15 days in jail because of good behavior.

Wright agreed to a plea deal in which prosecutors recommended a 10-month jail term and dropped 86 of the 106 counts against her in exchange for a guilty plea on 20 misdemeanor counts, including charges of prostitution, theft by deception and state tax evasion.

Wright told the court at her late May sentencing hearing she was tricked into the prostitution gig by Strong, who convinced her she was conducting secret investigations into “sexual deviants” for the state by having sex with clients and allowing him to tape the encounters.

She also told the court about her history as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, which she said left her vulnerable to manipulation by Strong.

Angel said Raw TV documentarians were not able to secure interviews with either Wright or Strong for their program.

“There isn’t an interview with Alexis, which is a shame, obviously. But I think we got a sense of what the human repercussions were in this story,” he said. “I still think there’s a whole part of the story that can only be told by Alexis, and I feel that story still hasn’t been finished yet.”

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