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Judge drops most charges against businessman in Maine Zumba prostitution case

  • bd8b7a86abe35b02270f6a70670028bd.jpg

    Mark Strong and his attorney Daniel Lilley enter York County Superior Court in Alfred, Maine, after returning from a lunch break on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Jury selection began Tuesday for Strong's trial accusing him of conspiring with Zumba instructor Alexis Wright to run a one-woman prostitution business in Kennebunk. Strong has pled not guilty to 59 misdemeanors. (AP Photo/Portland Press Herald, Gregorey Rec) (The Associated Press)

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    Justice Nancy Mills listens to attorney Daniel Lilley during a motion hearing in the trial of Mark Strong, Sr., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 at York County Superior Court in Alfred, Maine. The remaining jury selection must be open to the public in the trial of the first major figure in a prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio in Kennebunk, Maine's highest court ruled Thursday. (AP Photo/Portland Press Herald, Gregory Rec, Pool) (The Associated Press)

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    Mark Strong talks with his attorney Daniel Lilley during a motion hearing Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 at York County Superior Court in Alfred, Maine. The remaining jury selection must be open to the public in the trial of the first major figure in a prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio in Kennebunk, Maine's highest court ruled Thursday. (AP Photo/Portland Press Herald, Gregory Rec, Pool) (The Associated Press)

A judge on Friday dropped most of the charges against a figure in a prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio.

Justice Nancy Mills dismissed 46 of 59 misdemeanor counts against Mark Strong Sr., a day after the state's highest court ruled the closed jury selection process had to be opened to the public.

Strong had pleaded not guilty to all the counts, including conspiring with dance instructor Alexis Wright, who stands accused of using her Kennebunk studio as a prostitution front.

Most of the dropped charges relate to invasion of privacy of people prosecutors say were prostitution clients videotaped without their knowledge.

Mills said she didn't think Strong could be found guilty on the invasion of privacy counts. Strong's attorneys had argued people committing a crime — in this case engaging in prostitution — have no right to privacy.

Lawyers for the state said they would appeal the mass dismissal to the Maine Supreme Court.

Tina Nadeau, one of Strong's lawyers, was concerned that the appeal would result in a delay that would be prejudicial to Strong. Potential jurors were waiting for a fourth day in the courtroom basement and could blame the defendant for delays, she said.

"There's no doubt they could take it out on him," she told the judge. "Every minute that we're sitting here, his rights are being violated."

Strong, who's married, has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright after helping her launch her Pure Vida fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid with interest. He said he was unaware of any allegations of prostitution and did nothing wrong.

Police said Wright videotaped many of the encounters without her clients' knowledge and kept records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.

Wright, who also has pleaded not guilty, faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts performed in her dance studio and in a rented office. She'll be tried later.

After dismissing the charges, Mills recessed the court. It was unclear when court would resume.

Members of the jury pool were sent home Thursday afternoon after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court stopped the closed selection process in response to a constitutional challenge by the Portland Press Herald. In a 6-1 ruling, the state Supreme Court ordered the remainder of the process in York County Superior Court to be opened.

No jurors had been seated out of the original pool of more than 140.

Mills had been conducting questioning of potential jurors behind closed doors because of potentially embarrassing questions focusing on views on sex, adultery, pornography and prostitution. But the high court said that wasn't reason enough to close the proceedings.

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