A quiet New England community is in shock over reports that a Zumba fitness instructor allegedly ran a lucrative prostitution operation out of her studio, and videotaped encounters with her clients without their knowledge — all while receiving public assistance.
Alexis Wright, 29, was indicted last week on 106 counts of charges that ranged from prostitution to tax evasion by a York County, Maine grand jury. Mark Strong, 57, a licensed private investigator, who is accused of being her accomplice, faces 59 charges of promoting prostitution and invasion of privacy. Court records say the two of them ran a business in which clients paid a total of $150,000 for sex with Wright between Oct. 2010 and Feb. 2012, while being recorded in secret by Strong.
All the while, Wright reportedly claimed that her total income as a Zumba instructor was just $6,000 a year — allowing her to rake in more than $10,000 in food stamps and other state public aid. Wright and Strong pleaded not guilty to the charges against them at an arraignment. Prosecutors have collected more than 100 hours of tape and almost 14,000 screen shots from computers seized by police.
Maine Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills refused to sign a motion for protective order to seal evidence in the case, which could contain a list of Wright’s alleged clients, except for a hard drive that may contain child pornography.
Police had been surveilling Wright’s studio in the town of Kennebunk, Me., for months after hearing reports from neighboring businesses that prostitution activities might be taking place, according to an affidavit filed in July. A pizza shop next door to the studio reported to police that cars would pull up to it during various hours and with men dressed in business attire, stay for about 30 minutes, then leave. The owner of the office space she rented told police a similar story, adding that he once walked into the office space and found a camcorder and tripod, along with a massage table. After a web search for Wright he saw an online video of her performing a sex act in the rental space, which he recognized.
Finally, a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officer called Wright, who was using an alias, and she allegedly agreed to perform an “unspecified” sexual act for money.
After collecting this evidence, police executed a search warrant on the Wright’s office, studio and home in Wells, Maine. The computers seized reportedly contained records of the transactions for sex, as well as tax return she kept. The ledgers on the computer revealed that she made as much as $150,000 from the encounters, prosecutors say.
Data from the computers also allegedly reveal connections to Strong through postal, telephone and bank records. Officials say Wright is reportedly seen on video communicating with him about the transactions via phone or through Skype. Wright is accused of accessing driver’s license records to get information on the potential clients. The two were also allegedly shown on video engaged in various sexual acts themselves.
Lawyers for both Wright and Strong are upset that the evidence for the case will not be sealed. They believe the client list may contain names of the innocent, which could be revealed to the public. Sarah Churchill, who represents Wright, told the York County Coast Star that she believes the jury pool could be tainted by media coverage of what’s in the evidence discovery.
“What we are really concerned about is coverage that poisons the potential jury pool,” she said. “What’s out there is one-sided in that it’s the state’s version of events.”