Zumba instructor gets 10 months for prostitution; male business partner only 20 days.
May 31 2013
DAVID SHARP, Associated Press
(The Associated Press)
FILE - In this March 13, 2013 file photo, Alexis Wright, 30, leaves the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, Maine. Wright, a Zumba fitness instructor who pleaded guilty to using her Maine studio as a front for prostitution, is due to be sentenced Friday, May 31, 2013, bringing to an end a scandal featuring sex videos, exhibitionism and pornography. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
ALFRED, Maine (AP) — A high-profile prostitution scandal featuring sex videos, adultery, exhibitionism and more than 100 clients drew to a close Friday when a Zumba fitness instructor was sentenced to 10 months in jail after telling the judge she was happy to have escaped her former life of crime.
Addressing the judge through tears, Alexis Wright said she felt relief when police raided her business on Feb. 12, 2012, because she wanted out.
"In my eyes I'm free. I free from this. And I have an incredible amount of strength that I knew was in me somewhere. Now that I have the strength I want to encourage others to come forward. I want them to know that there's at least one person out there who'll believe their story, no matter how crazy it seems," she told the judge.
The 30-year-old Wright was sentenced under a plea agreement to 20 counts including prostitution, conspiracy, tax evasion and theft by deception. Afterward, she was led from court to begin serving her sentence.
Her attorney, Sarah Churchill, told the judge that the defendant had a difficult childhood, witnessing domestic violence and suffering sexual abuse, before she met Mark Strong, who became her eventual business partner. She said Strong used her troubled background to manipulate her.
Justice Nancy Mills extended wishes for success after the sentence was formally imposed in Superior Court.
"Based on what you have to say and what I know about you from your attorney, I know that you will succeed when you're released and that you will prevail. I wish you success," Mills said.
The single mother was accused of conspiring with Strong, an insurance business owner, to run a prostitution business in which she videotaped clients without their knowledge and kept detailed records over an 18-month period indicating she made $150,000 tax-free. She also collected more than $40,000 in public assistance.
The scandal in the seaside town of Kennebunk, known for its sea captain's mansions, beaches and New England charm, became a sensation following reports that Wright had at least 150 clients, some of them prominent. So far, those who have been charged include a former mayor, a high school hockey coach, a minister, a lawyer and a firefighter.
Wright was originally charged with 106 counts. All the counts in the plea agreement were misdemeanors, including three counts relating to welfare and tax fraud that were reduced from felonies.
Under the agreement, prosecutors will seek restitution of $57,280.54. Prosecutors say Wright cooperated with prosecutors and spared the state an expensive trial.
Her business partner, Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was convicted of 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. The married father of two, who has acknowledged having an affair with Wright, was originally charged with 59 counts.
On Friday, Wright looked back at her husband, whom she married last year, before addressing the judge. She said it was "incredibly nauseating" to hear Strong speak in the media of their relationship as one of love and friendship. She said she felt relief when police raided her business.
She said she intends to make good on her vow to help others.
"It's my intention to stand up for what is right. When I'm out, I'm going to pursue helping people fight through situations that are similar to mine," she said. "I'm optimistic that something good will come out of this."
Her husband, Jayson Trowbridge, left without addressing reporters. Surprise!
In a presentencing memorandum, the defense said Strong took photos of her as a model before she became part of his private investigation firm and was manipulated into believing she would become an "operative working for the state to investigate all manner of sexual deviants."
Churchill stood by that assessment Friday, calling the situation and relationship as "incredibly complex."
Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, however, said the state continues to believe Wright was "a willing participant" in the prostitution business. "The state believes she and Mark Strong were equal partners and that she played an active role in the operation," she said.
It came as little surprise that Wright opted to avoid standing trial by pleading guilty because evidence against her was overwhelming in Strong's trial, with jurors watching a video of her engaging in sex with a client who left $250, which she pocketed.
Prosecutors say paid sex happened in her studio, apartment and an office, where tenants complained about moaning and groaning.
Electronic evidence was plentiful because the two kept in touch via text, email and Skype, which Wright used to send a live video stream of sex acts to Strong. Videos also showed them speaking openly of ledgers, payments and scheduling.
Evidence unsealed after the trial indicated electronic exchanges in which Wright talked about the business goals: nine clients a week, 45 clients a month. They also openly discussed scheduling, insurance payments, her sexy outfits and clients' preferences. She even appeared to seek advice from Strong after encountering an unhappy client.
Business was running smoothly before it came to an abrupt end.
"I feel like this is going to be a good week," Wright wrote to Strong two days before the arrival of detectives with search warrants on Feb. 14, 2012.