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Lawyer fighting names release in prostitution case

Published: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 3:05 p.m. CDT
Caption
FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2012 file photo, Mark Strong Sr. (right) sits with his attorney Dan Lilley during his arraignment in Portland, Maine on 59 charges, including promotion of prostitution and violation of privacy in connection with a Kennebunk Zumba dance studio. (AP Photo/Joel Page, File)

KENNEBUNK, Maine (AP) — Curious residents in this seaside community may have to wait to learn which of their friends and neighbors stand accused of giving business to a fitness instructor charged with running a prostitution operation out of her Zumba studio.

The police department's plan to release some of the more than 150 names of suspected clients was delayed Friday by last-minute legal wrangling.

Residents say they've heard that the list could include lawyers, law enforcement officers and some well-known names.

"We're hearing that there are selectmen, there are policemen, that there are firemen — people that we're going to know in town," said Elaine Nicholson. "So everyone is, like, waiting with bated breath."

Alexis Wright, a 29-year-old fitness instructor from Wells, has pleaded not guilty to prostitution, invasion of privacy and other charges for allegedly accepting money for sex and secretly videotaping her encounters. Her business partner, Mark Strong Sr., a 57-year-old insurance agent and private investigator from Thomaston, pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor charges.

Searches of Wright's studio and office turned up video recordings of sexual acts, billing information and meticulous records about clients, according to court documents.

Based on the investigation, Kennebunk police have begun issuing summonses to Wright's johns on misdemeanor charges of engaging a prostitute. The first set of names was to be released Friday, but the police department was awaiting word from the courts before proceeding, said Lt. Anthony Burpee.

A lawyer for two men on the list filed an appeal Friday to challenge a decision by a Biddeford district judge who declined to halt the public release.

"We believe very strongly that their names ought not be released. The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case in which the government, we believe, will have great difficulty proving," the attorney, Stephen Schwartz, said Friday.

The prostitution charges and ensuing publicity — which reached across the country and beyond — came as a shock in this small town, which is well-known for its ocean beaches, old sea captains' mansions and the neighboring town of Kennebunkport, home to the Bush family's Walker's Point summer compound.

Some people say they had their suspicions about Wright but others were totally in the dark about the energetic dance instructor who introduced many local women and girls to Zumba, a Latin-flavored dance and fitness program.

Alison Ackley, who participated in Wright class, said she had no idea she was allegedly leading a double life.

"She was very professional. She was an amazing dancer and she held a good class so I liked going," Ackley said. "I thought she was a little, not risque, but a little flirtatious with a couple of the male participants in the class. But it's Zumba. You're there to have fun. I didn't think anything of it."

Her mom, Kim Ackley, said she hopes the names are released soon so people can move on with their lives.

"The list will be released eventually. They're just doing everything they can to stall it," she said. "Everybody is really ready to see who's on the list."

___

Sharp reported from Portland.

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