Zumba Prostitution Trial: Maine Jury begins deliberations in trial of accused business partner Mark Strong

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2013 photo, Mark Strong Sr., leaves the Cumberland County Court House, in Portland, Maine. Delayed by a pair of appeals to the state supreme court, jury selection is set to resume Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in the trial of an insurance agent accused of helping a fitness instructor use her Zumba studio as a front for prostitution. Justice Nancy Mills convened attorneys for defendant Mark Strong and fitness instructor Alexis Wright on Tuesday to get the case back on track after the state supreme court upheld the dismissal of 46 counts against Strong. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Robert F. Bukaty
Mark Strong Sr. leaves a court house in Portland, Maine on Jan. 18, 2013
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

(CBS/AP) ALFRED, Maine - Jurors in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. will enter deliberations Wednesday with two images of the defendant: a man who was either a Zumba instructor's shrewd business partner or a smitten lover who wanted to help the single mother.

PICTURES: Zumba instructor accused of prostitution

Prosecutors said the 57-year-old insurance agent helped Alexis Wright use her Kennebunk fitness studio as a front for prostitution from October 2010 to February 2012. Strong pleaded not guilty to a dozen counts of promoting prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution, while 46 invasion of privacy counts against him were previously dismissed.

Wright, 30, faces more than 100 counts including prostitution and tax violations. She also pleaded not guilty and will be tried later.

Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said Strong "controlled, supervised and managed" the prostitution business to the point that the fitness instructor took no action without his approval. But the defense characterized Strong as a man who was infatuated with a younger woman and made bad moral decisions but never profited from the operation.

"A business partner without making any kind of money? What kind of a business partner is that?" defense lawyer Dan Lilley told jurors during closing arguments on Tuesday.

Wright's ledgers indicated that she had more than 150 clients and made $150,000 over 18 months. So far, more than 60 suspected johns were charged in the scandal.

Testimony and videos indicated Strong was familiar with operational details of what happened in Wright's dance studio, chatting via Skype before and after her sexual encounters and watching the sex acts from his office 100 miles up the coast in Thomaston.

Wright provided Strong with her clients' license plate numbers, which he checked out using his status as a private investigator, prosecutors said. Wright wanted to confirm her clients' identities and have someone watching over the sex acts to stay safe, McGettigan said.

"This is more than a voyeur. This is a business partner with a business plan and a business that's successful," McGettigan said.

Lilley compared Strong's role to that of a bank that loans money to someone who uses it to commit a crime or a mother who provides meals and housing to a son who's a drug dealer. Neither the bank nor the mother would be charged, and Strong shouldn't have been charged either, he said.

"Do you really think this man went into the business of prostitution, or had he fallen in love or lust with a woman and tried to help her, a single woman with a child?" he said.

Before closing arguments, one of the final witnesses was Strong's brother, attorney James Strong. He testified that he told police officers executing a search warrant at his brother's home and office not to let Kennebunk officers have unsupervised access to his seized computers.

The defense contended that Mark Strong was investigating possible unprofessional conduct by Kennebunk police personnel and police targeted him in retaliation because he was delving into embarrassing internal matters, including an affair that involved the lead investigator.

"It was my understanding that there was information on the computer that Kennebunk police officers did not want disclosed," James Strong testified.

One hard drive from Mark Strong's office mistakenly ended up with the Kennebunk investigator, and it was blank when it was delivered to state police. Lilley suggested that the drive could have contained Strong's investigatory findings before being erased.

McGettigan dismissed the reprisal theory and urged jurors not to be distracted by the suggestion of a "crazy conspiracy."

Complete coverage of the Zumba Prostitution Scandal on Crimesider