PORTLAND, Maine – The prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio in a picture-perfect New England village that shocked the sensibilities of residents and generated international headlines is rapidly drawing to a close.
The final five cases are awaiting resolution and that could happen in coming weeks, either with pleas or trials. After that, no further prosecutions are anticipated because judges ruled that the woman at the heart of the scandal, Alexis Wright, cannot be forced to testify.
"Based on the rulings that the court has made in the last two trials regarding the testimony of Alexis Wright, we won't be proceeding with any other charges," said Justina McGettigan, deputy district attorney in Maine's York County.
The allegations of prostitution gained attention a year ago with reports of as many as 100 to 150 clients videotaped without their knowledge in Kennebunk, a seaside community known more for its beaches, historic homes and New England charm than for crime. Wright's business partner watched the sex acts unfold on a live video stream.
In the end, charges were brought against 68 people accused of being clients. Those included a former mayor, a minister, a lawyer and a firefighter.
Many cases were slam dunks because prosecutors had video footage or photos showing money changing hands. But without those images, Wright's testimony or other evidence of money changing hands, prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to pursue charges against the remainder of people allegedly on Wright's ledger.
All told, 60 of them pleaded guilty or no contest, and one was convicted by a jury. Prosecutors elected not to pursue charges against the only woman to be accused of using Wright's services, and one case ended in acquittal, according to documents obtained under Maine's Freedom of Access Act. Five more cases are on the docket.
Wright, 30, of Wells, avoided trial by pleading guilty to charges of prostitution, as well as several welfare- and tax-related charges. She's due to be released from jail by year's end.
The former single mother was accused of conspiring with insurance business owner Mark Strong to run the prostitution business. Detailed records over an 18-month period indicating she made $150,000 tax-free. She also collected more than $40,000 in public assistance.
Strong, 58, of Thomaston, a married father of two, was convicted of 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution. He was sentenced to 20 days in jail.
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