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KENNEBUNK, Maine - Alexis Wright, a fitness instructor in a southern
Maine town, was charged Tuesday with running a prostitution business out
of her Zumba dance studio and secretly videotaping her encounters,
Wright, 29, pleaded not guilty in Portland to 106 counts of
prostitution, violation of privacy, tax evasion and other charges for
allegedly providing sex for money at her fitness studio and a nearby
one-room office she rented. Her alleged business partner, 57-year-old
Mark Strong Sr. pleaded not guilty to 59 counts of promotion of
prostitution and violation of privacy.
Prosecutors haven't detailed why Wright was videotaping her encounters,
but they gathered more than 100 hours of video and nearly 14,000 screen
shots from seized computers, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan
"The state's in over its head. This case isn't ready for prosecution," Strong's lawyer Daniel Lilly said at the hearing.
Police have begun issuing summons to Wright's customers and will release
the names in the weeks ahead. Townspeople said they've heard that
lawyers, doctors, law enforcement officials, a television personality
and other well-known people in town are included in a detailed clientele
list police found.
The superintendent of schools issued a memo to teachers and staff last
week, instructing them to be on the lookout for students who have
relatives on the list of names and may be teased or have trouble coping.
Wright opened her Pura Vida fitness studio in 2010 teaching Zumba, a
Latin-inspired fitness program that combines aerobics and dance, about
25 miles south of Portland, the state's largest city. She later rented a
one-room office across the street, above a hair salon and a flower
That same year, an anonymous blog accused Wright of not being the sweet,
friendly Zumba instructor she portrayed herself to be. "She's living a
double life and is a porn star. She may be a prostitute for all I know,"
the first blog entry read.
Police began investigating after hearing reports of cars coming to the
studio and the office at all hours of the day and night and men going in
for a half-hour or hour at a time, according to a police affidavit
released when Strong was arrested in July.
The landlord who rented the office space to Wright told investigators
one of his tenants sometimes heard "moaning and groaning" coming from
Wright's office, the affidavit said.
When the landlord checked the office himself, he found a massage table
and a video camera set up on a tripod. He told police he later found an
online porn video of Wright that was recorded in the office, which he
recognized by the walls, the floor and the window.
When police raided the studio and office in February, they seized
electronic ledgers of sexual acts, video recordings and records of
clients and the sexual acts performed by Wright, according to the
affidavit. Police said that judging by what they found, Wright's alleged
sexual activities generated as much as $150,000.
Investigators said there was both a "business and personal" connection
between Strong and the activity at the studio. Video footage showed
Wright and Strong having sex, according to the affidavit.
Bee Nguyen, who rented the studio space to Wright and Strong, said
Tuesday he often saw cars pulling up to the back of the studio and men
going in but didn't think anything of it.
"She had a boyfriend," said Nguyen, adding that Wright and Strong owe him about $10,000 in back rent.
Wright is a single mother of a young son. It wasn't clear whether Wright
still has custody of her son; the agency that oversees child welfare
says it can't comment.
Both Wright and Strong are now free on personal recognizance.