ALFRED, Maine — The now-famous Kennebunk prostitute was tricked by Thomaston insurance broker Mark Strong Sr. into believing she was investigating “sexual deviants” for the state, the attorney representing Alexis Wright told the court in a pre-sentencing memorandum.
Wright was sentenced to 10 months in jail and ordered to pay $58,000 in fines and restitution by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills Friday morning in accordance with a plea agreement reached between the defendant and prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office and state attorney general’s office nearly two months ago.
Wright was traumatized as a child witnessing the sexual abuse of her mother by her father and then was sexually abused by the man herself “for many of her formative years,” according to defense attorney Sarah Churchill’s memo.
That background left her vulnerable to manipulation at the hands of co-conspirator Strong, Wright told the court Friday morning. When given an opportunity to address Mills from the lectern during the sentencing hearing, she began crying and struggled to read a prepared statement.
The admitted prostitute told the court she felt joy and relief when police broke the case open by executing a search warrant at her Kennebunk office in February of 2012. That took place after nearly 18 months of prostitution activity at the location.
“I have feelings of sadness that escalate to anger,” Wright told the court. “Then there are the flip sides for those feelings, feelings of joy and relief, because now it’s over and I never have to go back again.”
Strong was convicted by a jury in March on 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution and ultimately served 15 days of a 20-day sentence. One week after Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills sentenced Strong for his role in the operation, Wright agreed to a plea agreement in which prosecutors would recommend a 10-month jail term and drop 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, who worked as a fitness instructor in the seaside town by day, would not have taken part in the prostitution if not for the manipulation by Strong, her attorney told the court.
Churchill wrote that Wright met Strong while working as an exotic dancer in southern Maine to help pay her way through the University of Southern Maine.
“She meets an older man and over a period of years is taken in by him first as a model, then as part of his private investigation firm and is told a story, which she all too readily believes, about how she is an operative working for the state to investigate all manner of sexual deviants,” the attorney wrote.
“At first this seems too farfetched for anyone to believe,” Churchill continued, in part. “Nevertheless text messages between Ms. Wright and Mark Strong Sr. bear it out.”
The defense attorney referred to several text message exchanges in which Strong referred to “them” — presumably meaning state investigators — wanting documents, making better videos of the sex acts and needing secrecy for their research.
When Churchill addressed the court Friday morning, she said Wright’s parents split up when she was “8 or 9 years old” and moved to California with her mother.
But then, the defense attorney told Mills, “her father drove across country, kidnapped her and took her back to Maine. I think we can all imagine the horrors that took place during that cross-country trip.”
Churchill said police ultimately took her father into custody and turned Wright back over to her mother, but that trauma — and the experiences that preceded it — set the stage for her later interaction with Strong.
“Prostitution is not a business in the same way that a convenience store is a business or that a pizza parlor is a business,” the defense attorney told the court. “You don’t decide to go into prostitution under the same mindset we all [had when] deciding to go to law school, for instance. The choice to get into that business is driven by past trauma and past abuse.”
Churchill wrote in her pre-sentencing memorandum that Wright has been in counseling for six months “to begin dealing with the fallout from this matter. Not only does she have to deal with processing her childhood trauma and the trauma from this matter, but because some of the videos in this case were put on the internet, she also has to face the fact that there are people out there viewing and profiting from this matter.”
Churchill wrote that after the conclusion of Wright’s criminal case, the attorney will direct her attention toward “shutting down these sites and analyzing whether there were actually any profits made that can be recouped.”
Prosecutors from the York County district attorney’s office and state attorney general’s office described in their pre-sentencing memorandum the tax evasion and related theft by deception offenses as being particularly “serious.”
“Stealing from these limited resources is very serious,” York County Assistant District Attorney Justina McGettigan wrote. “Public benefits are for those in need, not individuals flush with cash from an illicit business.”
Those charges are ultimately what drove Justice Mills in her sentencing decision as well, the judge said Friday.
“These are the crimes that are driving the sentence,” Mills said, “not prostitution or promotion of prostitution. These are charges not brought against Mark Strong and were brought against this defendant.”
In late winter a jury found Strong guilty of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.
Mills denied a defense request to allow Wright to serve the sentence at the Cumberland County jail, where a more child-friendly pre-release area exists, instead of in York County. Churchill asked that the change be allowed so Wright could have more comfortable interactions with her now 8-year-old son and husband.
Prosecutors said that evidence introduced at the Strong trial — including a 45-minute stretch of video in which Wright is shown having sex with a man in her office, discussing her rates for the service and then accepting cash payment — would likely be introduced again if Wright had gone to trial.
Other evidence used against Strong that could have been damning included detailed client ledgers sent by Wright to Strong by email listing appointment times, names, sex services rendered and prices charged.
The Kennebunk prostitution case became a media sensation last year after police claimed to have discovered a client list including as many as 150 names, fueling intense public speculation over whether any prominent locals were on what would become known far and wide as “The List.”
Nearly 70 people have been charged with paying for sex in the case, including a former South Portland mayor and Portland planning board chairman. Kennebunk police announced last month that by the end of the summer, they would decide whether to move forward with charges against another 40 alleged johns, a move that could extend the court life of the sprawling prostitution case into 2014.