ALFRED, Maine — Jurors in the first of two major trials in the high-profile Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case watched videos Thursday morning that showed accused prostitute Alexis Wright engaging in sex acts with a client and then discussing her rate of $250 for a 45-minute session before accepting a wad of money from the man.
On trial is Mark Strong Sr., a Thomaston insurance broker and part-time private investigator who faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution. Strong is accused of conspiring with fitness instructor Wright to run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio.
The video showed Wright and the alleged john engaged in sex acts on a massage table. The video, which took place in a plain white room, began with Wright apparently putting some sort of cloth around the camera lens.
A cellphone can be heard going off repeatedly during the video, but Wright and the man ignored it.
Wright met the man at the door in a red-and-black patterned dress, and first engaged in small talk, primarily about how a teacher in a class she said she was taking looks “like she’s 20 years old.”
“I felt really old, and then there was one girl in the class who was in high school,” Wright told the man, before asking him, “You want to make me feel young?”
The two undressed and she began by providing him a oil massage while he lay face-up on the massage table. They engaged in sex acts, culminating in intercourse.
Afterward, while the two dressed, the video showed the man apparently complaining about credit card problems before asking Wright, “How much is the rate an hour?”
“Forty-five minutes went up to $250,” she responded.
The man then left cash on the massage table before departing.
On the video, after Wright and the alleged john parted ways, she discussed the encounter with a man’s voice heard from off-screen, apparently through a cellphone or computer connection.
“I just want to get home and get everything on a hard drive and get it to the post office before [my son] gets home from school,” Wright told the man, later adding, “I put on my blog I had an opening at noon, and now my phone’s been ringing off the hook.”
On Thursday morning, prosecution witness and Saco police Detective Frederick Williams told the jury the video was found by investigators on an external hard drive seized from Wright, and screenshot pictures from the same encounter were found on computers seized from Strong.
A police investigator who testified last week said he discovered an Internet camera hidden under a pile of clothing in a second-floor office space Wright rented in Kennebunk.
Prosecutors say the video footage and still images extracted from the footage prove Strong oversaw the alleged prostitution, but defense attorneys have argued the images only suggest he may have been a “voyeur.”
Williams on Thursday morning also testified about a ledger investigators allegedly found on Wright’s computer equipment in which the encounter is recorded, naming the man “Robert” and including the date and time the incident occurred — from 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Jan. 19, 2012.
In a line on the ledger titled “services provided,” Williams read off a list of initials that, when cross-referenced through a key on the ledger, read to stand for various sex acts. The document also recorded a price of $250 for the services allegedly provided.
During the trial on Wednesday, jurors were asked to review packets of printed-out emails allegedly taken from Strong’s account. Mills told the jury at the time some of the emails included attached ledgers, but the email packets were not turned over to the public or media at the time.
Jurors were not asked to watch any more sexually explicit videos Thursday, as defense attorneys agreed to a stipulation conceding that on approximately 12 dates referenced by Williams, prosecutors could produce videos of Wright engaging in sex acts with an alleged client and exchanging money, and that they could also produce corresponding screenshot captures found on Strong’s computers.
Prosecutors did, however, show several more videos in which Wright apparently set up her camera and engaged in a conversation with the male voice off-screen. Maine State Police Detective Mark Holmquist testified later Thursday that he compared the voice in the video with voice recordings of Strong and believed the voice in the video to be Strong’s.
During one video, she asked the male voice to “review” potential clients, and during others, read off license plate numbers from cars of alleged johns pulling into her parking lot.
“Did you see that I forwarded you somebody for tomorrow?” Wright asked the voice. “Curleyman-something.”
She then apparently read from an email from the alleged client.
“He’s a gentleman and he’s shy — [expletive] like that. Like I don’t hear that enough,” Wright told the voice in the video.
During his testimony, Williams read to the jury four text messages sent from a phone number associated with Wright to a number associated with Strong. Williams said the texts took place during the same time as the recording of a Feb. 3, 2012, video, in which Wright is seen showing the alleged john to the bathroom and then typing onto her cellphone while he is out of the room.
Williams read four text messages: “He’s so nervous,” “Went to the bathroom,” “Did you look up his plate?” and “XXXXX.”
Prosecutors aim to prove through the texts and simultaneously recorded video that Strong was actively involved in the prostitution in real time, if remotely.
According to lines Williams read from Wright’s alleged ledger, one of the other clients referenced in a video paid $300 for an hour’s time and another paid $500 for 90 minutes.
Strong’s defense attorney, Daniel Lilley, had argued in court that sexually explicit material should not be allowed in his client’s trial on the grounds that it proves only that Strong may have been a “voyeur,” and that some of the sex acts depicted could “horrify” jurors and turn them against the defendant.
Lilley renewed that argument Thursday, saying repeated videos allegedly showing Strong interacting with Wright through their computers before she takes on prostitution clients is overkill.
“I’m asking the court to cut this relatively minor evidence off,” he said. “The state has demonstrated what they’re trying to demonstrate.”
But Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills agreed to allow prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office to introduce a “representative” sampling of the visual content.
That sampling on Wednesday included about 100 of 577 available picture printouts — allegedly taken remotely of Wright engaged in sexual encounters with men through the popular videoconferencing program Skype and found on computers seized from Strong’s Thomaston properties — to help establish that prostitution was indeed taking place.
In addition to the 100 printouts, which jurors passed around with little expression Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors Wednesday also showed the jury a 1-minute, 45-second video in which a woman identified by witness and Detective Williams as Wright drops her towel and stands naked in front of her fitness studio store windows in an apparent effort to attract the attention of men working across the street.