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Jury selection starts for business partner of Zumba instructor charged with prostitution

  • 26fb225e301bfa02260f6a706700e20e.jpg

    Mark Strong Sr., leaves the Cumberland County Court House, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in Portland, Maine. No plea was reached Friday and the case will proceed to trial next week for Strong, the business partner of a Zumba dance instructor charged with running a prostitution business from her Kennebunk, Maine studio. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) (The Associated Press)

  • ee488a0d301afa02260f6a706700200f.jpg

    Mark Strong Sr., right, and his attorney, Dan Lilley, leave the Cumberland County Court House, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in Portland, Maine. No plea was reached Friday and the case will proceed to trial next week for Strong, the business partner of a Zumba dance instructor charged with running a prostitution business from her Kennebunk, Maine studio. Justice Nancy Mills declined to let the defense lawyer remove himself from representing Strong.(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) (The Associated Press)

The process finding a jury untainted by international news coverage of a prostitution scandal got under way in fits and starts Tuesday in the trial of the business partner of a Zumba instructor accused of using her dance studio as a front for prostitution.

More than 140 potential jurors were called into the courtroom Tuesday before being dismissed to fill out questionnaires in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., who faces 59 misdemeanor counts including conspiring with Zumba instructor Alexis Wright.

Defense lawyer Dan Lilley said most of the questioning of potential jurors would be done privately in judge's chambers.

"This is a long and laborious process, most of which is not public," he said.

Lawyers said it could take a couple of days to select a jury. A judge previously rejected a defense motion to move the trial because of pre-trial publicity.

Justice Nancy Mills will be hard-pressed to find jurors who know nothing about the case.

Celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, whose clients have included Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, said cases like this one cause problems for judges.

"These are what I affectionately call 'supersized trials,' trials that for whatever reason end up gaining momentum that's far beyond what the case justified," Geragos said from Los Angeles.

Both Strong and Wright have pleaded not guilty.

Strong, 57, has said he helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio in Kennebunk by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid with interest.

He acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright but said he never paid her for sex. He denied engaging in any criminal conduct.

Police said Wright videotaped many of her encounters without her clients' knowledge and kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. A lawyer who has seen the client list says it totals more than 150. So far, more than 60 people have been charged or pleaded guilty. Some of them will be called to testify.

Wright, who lives in nearby Wells, will be tried at a later date. She faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts allegedly performed in her studio and in a rented office across the street.

In Kennebunk, people became accustomed to news crews and satellite trucks after indictments were handed up in October. At first, locals were baffled and bemused by the news coverage. Eventually, many of them became irate.

Michael Reed takes the view of many Kennebunk residents — that Strong, Wright and the vast majority of accused johns are outsiders whose actions shouldn't reflect negatively on the community, known for its beaches, captain's houses and, across the river in Kennebunkport, the Walker's Point compound of former President George H.W. Bush.

"Maybe it's blown out of proportion a little bit. My personal opinion is that I don't care," said Reed, who suggested many other residents had lost interest in the case.

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Follow David Sharp on Twitter at http://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP.

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