May 20, 2019
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Judge refuses to dismiss charge in prostitution case

ALFRED, Maine — A Superior Court judge refused Friday to dismiss a promotion of prostitution charge against Thomaston insurance company owner Mark W. Strong Sr.

Justice Joyce Wheeler said that there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the prosecution in having thus far failed to turn over evidence in the case to Strong’s attorney Daniel Lilley.

Justice Wheeler, however, said she wants the district attorney’s office and attorney general’s office to turn over the information as soon as possible.

Also, at the start of Friday’s hearing, Wheeler denied a request by both the defense attorney and prosecutor that she recuse herself from the case.

Wheeler, who normally presides over cases in Cumberland County, was specially assigned to the high-profile case earlier this month to avoid similar recusal requests of York County judges who might know some of the parties or witnesses in the case.

But on Friday both defense attorney Lilley and Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan asked Wheeler to recuse herself because a law clerk who does some work for judges in Cumberland County is married to an assistant attorney general who is involved in the prosecution.

Both the defense attorney and prosecutor stressed that they were not questioning Wheeler’s integrity but that they didn’t want there to be any appearance of bias in the case.

In arguments on the motion to dismiss, McGettigan said that the district attorney’s office was not trying to prevent the defense from having the evidence. She said the information acquired was voluminous and the office wanted to continue its investigation into other individuals in a careful manner.

McGettigan said that the amount of information was such that it could take Mr. Lilley six months to review.

The deputy district attorney said that when police conducted a search of Strong’s home and office they found multiple computers and generated considerably more information than anticipated.

“We didn’t expect what we recovered in July,” she said, adding that she believes Strong was aware that police had conducted searches of another home, office and dance studio in Kennebunk that police say were the center of the prostitution operation. McGettigan said Strong had a chance to destroy evidence, but that only a small amount had been erased, and that too had since been recovered.

The prosecutor said the state did not want to release evidence of a salacious nature that could impede the investigation or violate the rights of other people who may be charged.

There has been no selective prosecution of Strong, she maintained, though no one else has been charged in connection with the case yet.

Assistant Attorney General Greg Bernstein from the financial crimes division said there were eight terabytes of records retrieved from the computers as well as dozens of DVDs and 500 pages of bank records. He said 90 percent of the bank records were of the woman who ran the dance studio and the remaining amount from Strong. The Bangor Daily News is not releasing the woman’s name since she has not been charged.

In his motion to have the case against Strong dismissed, Lilley argued that the failure of the state to provide him evidence it has collected against his client has made it impossible to prepare for trial. The case had been scheduled for a docket call on Oct. 4 at which time a trial date would have been set.

“Time is our enemy. He [Strong] is getting killed in the media,” Lilley said in court Friday. Bernstein said he would begin providing information to Lilley immediately. Justice Wheeler asked the prosecution to come up with a proposed order to protect the dissemination of inappropriate evidence such as videos of sexual activity by next week.

Attorney Sarah Churchill, who represents the dance studio owner, was in attendance at the hourlong hearing in York County Superior Court. She asked for two weeks to review bank records of her client that the prosecution has obtained before she knows whether to challenge its release to the defense or at least to prevent its dissemination beyond Strong and his defense staff.

Strong, 56, was arrested in July and charged with the Class D offense of promotion of prostitution. The charge carries a maximum possible penalty of a year in jail. Strong, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge, did not appear in court Friday.

State police stated in an affidavit filed in court in order to obtain an arrest warrant for Strong that Strong had a significant business and personal connection with the woman who ran the Zumba dance studio in Kennebunk that police allege was involved in prostitution.

Police have gotten the court to seal until the end of November the affidavits used to obtain a search warrant of the Zumba studio, the office for the business, and the woman’s home.

Lilley has said he has heard that there are 150-200 names on the client list maintained by the woman.

Lilley said Strong, who also is licensed as a private investigator, had been hired by the woman to investigate alleged harassment by Kennebunk police against her. Kennebunk police have denied the claim.

The deputy district attorney said that the investigation is going in many different directions. She said she expects other people to be prosecuted.

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