June 21, 2018
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Strong drops appeal in Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
Defense attorneys Daniel Lilley and Tina Nadeau are greeted by reporters and cameras outside the Cumberland County courthouse Thursday, March 21, 2013, after the sentencing of their client, Mark Strong Sr., in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Defense attorneys for Mark Strong Sr., who was convicted of helping run a Kennebunk prostitution business that captured global media attention, have dropped their appeal.

Tina Nadeau, who served as Strong’s co-counsel alongside Daniel Lilley in the high-profile trial, confirmed Friday morning that her team is no longer pursuing an appeal of the conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The effective end of Strong’s legal case came as the defense attorney for his alleged co-conspirator, Kennebunk Zumba instructor and accused prostitute Alexis Wright, continued in lengthy plea negotiations with the York County district attorney’s office.

Strong is now eight days into a 20-day sentence for his crimes, which consisted of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.

Because Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills denied the Thomaston man bail and ordered his sentence to begin immediately following his March 21 hearing, Strong would likely have finished serving his sentence before an appeal of the conviction played out.

Nadeau and Lilley filed a notice of appeal with the court the day of Strong’s sentencing. In a rare public confrontation between an attorney and judge, Lilley told Mills at the March 21 hearing her decision to deny bail “on misdemeanor charges is unheard of,” and said it represented a “judicial error.”

Mills, however, refused to reconsider her decision on bail, saying she was tired of defense filings forcing her to rule multiple times on what were essentially the same arguments.

Lilley at the time sought to keep Strong free from jail while his team brought its case to the state’s highest court. While Strong’s attorneys did not at the time specify what they planned to focus their appeal on, they had attempted to get the case thrown out on two separate occasions at the Superior Court level because of what they called an illegally vague indictment filed originally by prosecutors.

Lilley and Nadeau argued that, because under Maine law promotion of prostitution has seven possible definitions, the indictment should have specified exactly how Strong was alleged to have committed the crimes. The defense team noted during the trial that no evidence was shown to suggest that Strong benefited financially from the alleged prostitution, nor that he sent customers to Wright, although those points were disputed by prosecutors in their sentencing memorandum.

The defense team in the Strong case might also have requested that the supreme court, if it were to allow the conviction to stand at all, reduce the promotion counts from 12 to just one.

Lilley and Nadeau on multiple occasions pushed Mills to cut the number of promotion counts, arguing that because the first count encompasses a nearly two-year period, the additional 11 counts, which list dates within that larger time span, are redundant.

But Mills, who did throw out 46 privacy invasion charges against Strong in a pretrial hearing, rebuffed the defense each time on both arguments, and Lilley suggested in the March 21 sentencing hearing the two issues provided ample fodder for appeal.

This week, Lilley’s team backed away from those threats, with Nadeau confirming the appeal effort has been dropped, effectively bringing to an end the first of two major trials associated with the alleged Kennebunk prostitution business.

The news circulated Friday at the Cumberland County courthouse in Portland, where Wright and her attorney, Sarah Churchill, were on hand for continued plea talks with prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office.

Churchill last week filed an unopposed motion to push the deadline for pretrial motions in Wright’s case from March 26 until April 16 to give the parties more time to negotiate a settlement that could render a potentially lengthy trial — and the surrounding media frenzy — unnecessary. Plea talks were held on March 13, but ended without a resolution that day.

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 was ultimately called to testify. Nearly 70 people have been charged with engaging a prostitute in the case, and as many as 150 or more were allegedly named on a client list kept by Wright.

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 who 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.

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