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Judge refuses to dismiss prostitution-related charges against Strong in Kennebunk case

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Mark W. Strong Sr., 57, listens in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland with his attorney Daniel Lilley on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 where he was arraigned on 59 criminal charges. Those include 12 counts of promotion of prostitution, two counts of conspiracy, and 45 counts of invasion of privacy with an inside device.

PORTLAND, Maine — Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills refused to throw out a slate of prostitution-related charges against Thomaston businessman Mark Strong this week. She denied his motions to dismiss all charges and suppress evidence, as well as his request for a hearing on the validity of an investigator’s testimony in the case.

The ruling, dated Dec. 31, 2012, and posted online by the court system Wednesday, means Strong, 57, will face trial this month on 59 charges, including promotion of prostitution and invasion of privacy.

Strong is accused of conspiring with Alexis Wright, 29, to run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk fitness studio. Both Strong and Wright have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Strong and Wright will be tried separately in the sprawling case, which has also included charges against more than 60 individuals accused of paying for sex at the studio. But the two are tied together in a lawsuit by the building’s landlord, who said Strong and Wright — both allegedly listed as tenants of the studio space — owe rent and property taxes.

Strong’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against his client, in part, because of what he described as prosecutors’ inability or unwillingness to turn over evidence against Strong in a timely or usable fashion.

In his original motion, Lilley told the court that: His office never received a computer hard drive the York County District Attorney’s Office alleged had been seized from Strong and contained evidence implicating him; that a report from a key investigator in the case was turned over after the Nov. 26 deadline to do so; that because alleged johns are still being regularly charged in the case material continues to be added to the evidence pile as the trial date approaches; and that Strong’s team could not access a computer presentation made by prosecutors to support their recommendation to join Strong and Wright in a single trial.

Lilley also requested what is known as a Franks Hearing, in which he would argue that Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby’s written testimony is “reckless” and “misleading … to the court,” and filed an additional motion to throw out that evidence along with other related documents.

Strong, who is also a private investigator, has accused Presby of targeting him in the case in retaliation for an investigation he was doing into a police officer’s shooting of a knife-wielding woman in 2011. The Kennebunk Police Department denied Strong’s accusations and noted that the shooting was investigated by the state attorney general’s office, as are all police shootings in the line of work, and the officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Lilley argued that search warrants based on Presby’s affidavit should never have been granted, and the evidence discovered through the execution of those search warrants should be suppressed.

But Justice Mills denied the motions and request for a Franks Hearing, writing in her decision that Lilley, in a previous conference, asked for a speedy 2012 trial even with knowledge that additional alleged johns would be charged into 2013. She also said sufficient probable cause was documented by investigators through “electronic data, video, phone records and other documents” prior to seeking the search warrants in question.

With regard to the hard drive in question, Mills ruled that prosecutors delivered all of their computer evidence to Strong’s team, and that a two-terabyte external hard drive the defendant’s team alleges has yet to be turned over simply is not part of the record.

“This hard drive is not listed on any inventory of the items seized,” Mills wrote in her decision.

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