Jury selection starts in Zumba prostitution case
ALFRED, Maine (AP) – A judge and lawyers used a 10-page survey and one-on-one questioning Tuesday to try to find a jury untainted by international news coverage for the trial of the business partner of a Zumba instructor accused of using her dance studio as a front for prostitution.
About a third of more than 140 potential jurors were dismissed and the remainder told to return Wednesday as jury selection continues in the trial of Mark Strong Sr.
Strong, an insurance agent and private investigator from Thomaston, faces 59 misdemeanor counts including conspiring with Zumba instructor Alexis Wright, as well as invasion of privacy for allegedly viewing sex videos featuring unsuspecting clients. Both Strong and Wright have pleaded not guilty.
The potential jurors were called into the courtroom Tuesday before being dismissed to fill out questionnaires that focused, among other things, on their views on prostitution, pornography and adultery. Afterward, some jurors were questioned one by one in the judge’s chambers.
“This is a long and laborious process, most of which is not public,” defense lawyer Daniel Lilley said during a break in York County Superior Court.
Justice Nancy Mills will be hard-pressed to find jurors who know nothing about the case.
Celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, whose clients have included Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, said cases like this one cause problems for judges.
“These are what I affectionately call ‘supersized trials,’ trials that for whatever reason end up gaining momentum that’s far beyond what the case justified,” Geragos said from Los Angeles.
Strong, 57, has said he helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio in Kennebunk by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid with interest. He acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright but said he never paid her for sex.
He denied engaging in any criminal conduct.
Police said Wright videotaped many of her encounters without her clients’ knowledge and kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
A lawyer who has seen the client list says it totals more than 150. So far, more than 60 people have been charged or pleaded guilty.
Until the Zumba case, Kennebunk was known mainly for its beaches, captain’s houses and, across the river in Kennebunkport, the Walker’s Point compound of former President George H.W. Bush.
Wright, who lives in nearby Wells, will be tried at a later date. She faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy.
For Strong’s trial, the witness list numbers 72, including at least three accused prostitution clients who have been convicted, the three men’s lawyers said.
Gary Prolman, who represents 10 accused prostitution clients, including two who could be called to testify, said he is asking the judge to withhold their names if they are called to testify based on a rules aimed at protecting victims. The men are potentially victims because they were videotaped without their knowledge, he said.
“They’ve been through this thing. They’ve pleaded guilty. They don’t want to go through this again,” Prolman said Tuesday.
Stephen Schwartz, who represents 11 of the alleged prostitution clients, including one who could be called to testify, said the state has invested lots of resources in the case.
“It’s an extraordinary about of money, effort and resources for what amounts to, as we’ve said before, one of the least serious offenses in the state of Maine,” Schwartz said.
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