Court upholds dismissal of 46 counts in Zumba prostitution case

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Maine's highest court on Friday rejected a motion to reinstate 46 invasion of privacy counts against a man accused of helping a Zumba fitness instructor run a prostitution business in the seaside town of Kennebunk.

In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the trial judge's ruling that prostitution clients don't have the same privacy rights as innocent people in dressing rooms under a state law.

Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston, was accused of viewing sex videos featuring unsuspecting prostitution clients. He still faces 13 other counts dealing with promotion of prostitution.

The court was working on an expedited schedule because jury selection in Strong's trial has been on hold in York County. Strong and fitness instructor Alexis Wright have both pleaded not guilty. She'll be tried later.

Strong's lawyer, Dan Lilley, contended state lawmakers never intended to protect prostitution johns or other criminals from surveillance.

But Assistant York County District Attorney Patrick Gordon argued that the same state privacy law that specifically protects people from surveillance in dressing rooms also protects people engaging in sex in a private setting -- regardless of whether money changes hands.

The dismissed counts were 45 invasion of privacy counts and one count of conspiracy to commit invasion of privacy. All 46 counts were misdemeanors.

In its opinion, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Jon Levy wrote that the prostitution clients don't qualify as "persons entitled to privacy" under the state privacy law.

"Places of prostitution and people who knowingly frequent them to engage a prostitute are not sanctioned by society. Accordingly, it is objectively unreasonable for a person who knowingly enters a place of prostitution for the purpose of engaging a prostitute to expect that society recognizes a right to be safe from surveillance while inside," he wrote.

The case has generated national and international media attention.

Law enforcement officials say Wright kept meticulous records that suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. Lawyers say the list included 150 clients, some of them prominent.

Strong has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright after helping her launch her Pura Vida fitness studio by co-signing her lease and loaning her money that she repaid with interest.

The married insurance business owner said he never paid her for sex and was unaware of any prostitution.