Jury selected in Zumba prostitution case in Maine
ALFRED, Maine (AP) – After a delay that spanned weeks, jury selection was completed Wednesday for the trial of an insurance agent accused of helping a Zumba fitness instructor run a prostitution business.
The 12 jurors and four alternates were expected to hear opening statements later Wednesday in the trial of Mark Strong Sr.
Jury selection had stalled for more than three weeks when prosecutors appealed the dismissal of 46 invasion-of-privacy counts against the married businessman. Strong is standing trial on 13 other counts dealing with promotion of prostitution.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, and fitness instructor Alexis Wright have pleaded not guilty. Wright, who will be tried later, faces charges including engaging in prostitution in her dance studio.
More than 50 potential jurors gathered in court Wednesday morning, and they were questioned in open court instead of behind closed doors thanks to a successful lawsuit by the Portland Press Herald.
Underscoring concerns about extensive media coverage, 12 potential jurors told Justice Nancy Mills that they had heard or seen news coverage or overheard conversations from family members or co-workers since they had been tapped for the jury pool.
One woman drew laughter when she said, “My grandma knows I’m here and won’t stop talking about it.”
Mills said, to more laughter, “I’d hate to see grandma go to jail.”
One man who was ultimately dismissed from service told the judge during individual questioning that he owned a landscaping business in Kennebunk, where the Zumba studio was located. He said one of his clients was reported in the media to be one of the prostitution clients. The man also said he held strong views that prostitution should be legal.
Mills went to great lengths to seat a jury despite intense news overage generated by the scandal in Kennebunk, a town of about 10,000 residents known for its ocean beaches and old mansions. More than 140 potential jurors were called for the case, and each of them had to fill out a questionnaire that asked their views on a variety of matters, including sex, adultery, pornography and prostitution.
The case has generated national and international headlines because of its location in a quiet seaside hamlet next to Kennebunkport, home of the Bush family’s Walker’s Point summer compound, and the scale of the prostitution alleged by prosecutors.
Law enforcement officials say Wright kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. A lawyer who’s seen the client list says it includes more than 150 names, some of them prominent. Those who’ve been charged include a former mayor, a high school hockey coach, a minister, a lawyer and a firefighter.
Strong said he helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid in full. He said he didn’t know about allegations of prostitution.
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