Zumba Prostitution Trial: Mark Strong, Maine man, knew about sex ring, prosecutor says
(CBS/AP) ALFRED, Maine - An insurance agent accused of helping a Zumba dance instructor run a prostitution business was deeply involved and consulted frequently with her - especially on days when patrons visited, a prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday.
The defense for Mark Strong Sr. countered that he was guilty only of having an affair with a younger woman and of trying to help his lover's dance studio, which he thought was wholly legitimate.
"He got close to her. He liked her. He wanted to protect her. You'll have to see if he stepped over the line, and stepped over the line beyond a reasonable doubt," defense attorney Dan Lilley told jurors. "Affairs are bad decisions but not crimes."
The lawyers delivered their opening statements after lengthy delays in picking a jury.
Jury selection stalled for more than three weeks after prosecutors appealed the dismissal of 46 invasion-of-privacy counts against the married businessman. Strong, 57, of Thomaston, is standing trial on 13 other counts dealing with promotion of prostitution.
Both he and the fitness instructor, Alexis Wright, have pleaded not guilty. Wright, who will be tried later, faces charges including engaging in prostitution.
Strong, who ran an insurance agency, helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money with commercial notes that were repaid with interest. He contends he didn't know about allegations of prostitution.
But York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan told jurors that Strong knew what was going on and used his private investigator's license to run license plate registration checks on johns.
"Mr. Strong was actively engaged in that business enterprise," McGettigan said, pointing out that Strong and Wright communicated frequently via video link, text and email.
Lilley said Strong never promoted the business nor did he profit from it.
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