Alexis Wright, Zumba instructor accused of prostitution had Hallmark-style moments with son, friends say

Alexis Wright turns towards her attorney Sarah Churchill, right, during her arraignment, Oct. 9, 2012, in Portland, Maine.
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Alexis Wright
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(CBS/AP) KENNEBUNK, Maine - Alexis Wright, the Zumba dance instructor accused of prostitution, was an honors high school student and a college graduate. She also hosted charity events benefiting Toys for Tots and breast cancer research, friends said.

Pictures: Cops: Zumba instructor accused of prostitution

Friends said Wright, 29, would be the last person they thought would get caught up in a scandal in which she is accused of having more than 100 alleged clients come to her dance studio and pay her for sex in the seaside town of Kennebunk.

In October, Wright was charged with 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts performed in her dance studio and in a rented office nearby. She pleaded not guilty. Her alleged business partner, Mark Strong Sr., pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor counts.

Police said Wright videotaped many of the encounters without her clients' knowledge and kept records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. So far, police have released the names of 39 alleged clients, including a former mayor and the local high school ice hockey coach. More names are being released Friday.

While she is portrayed as a Zumba instructor gone wild, friends say there's another side to Wright  -  and that is she didn't deserve to have her 7-year-old son taken away from her two weeks ago.

Longtime friend Andrew Scherzer said Wright lived a life full of Hallmark-style moments with her son, with camping and canoeing trips and outings to the Portland Children's Museum and the New England Aquarium.

"If you were an outsider and spent time with her and her kid, the last thing you'd suspect is that she had this side business going on," said Scherzer, who went to high school with Wright.

Wright was an honors student at Mount Ararat High School, where she played field hockey and participated in the concert band, wind ensemble and chamber singers.

"I thought she was a really nice person. I never, ever saw her be mean or rude to anyone. She was extremely kind," said Evelyn Barbour, a science teacher at Mount Ararat who knew Wright since the fifth grade and remained friendly with her through high school.

Wright also played clarinet and left a favorable impression on her band director.

"She was really nice kid, a sweet kid. She worked hard. She did what was expected. She blended in with lots of kids. She didn't stand out in any bad ways. She was just a nice, sweet kid," said Allen Graffam, the director.

Wright took classes at Keene State College and Southern Maine Community College before earning a natural sciences degree in 2010 from the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College. Meanwhile, the single mother was gaining recognition in Kennebunk for her Zumba classes, which were first offered in the auditorium of the Town Hall.

She also hosted Zumba charity events for earthquake victims in Haiti, the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer and Toys for Tots, among others.

Sarah Churchill, Wright's lawyer, said the media have presented a one-sided view of her client. Churchill anticipates more information about Wright's good works will make its way into the public's eye as the case proceeds to trial.

Wright lives with her husband, whom she married over the summer. A judge on Wednesday dismissed a complaint from the father of Wright's son - not her husband - seeking full custody. The father, Benjamin Hopkins, alleged she posed nude in pictures with the boy, who was partially covered with a sheet. 

The judge reportedly dismissed the complaint when neither the father nor Wright showed up for a court hearing on the matter, The Portland Press Herald reported.

"She feels like she's dead right now. She's having the only thing that's important to her ripped away," said Scherzer. "Under the circumstances, she's doing what she can, which is to not break down and go crazy and give up."

Complete coverage of the Zumba Prostitution Scandal on Crimesider