ALFRED, Maine – A high-profile prostitution scandal featuring sex videos, adultery, exhibitionism and more than 100 clients drew to a close Friday when a Zumba fitness instructor who turned her studio into a brothel was sentenced to 10 months in jail.
Alexis Wright was sentenced under a plea agreement to 20 counts including prostitution, conspiracy, tax evasion and theft by deception.
Justice Nancy Mills extended wishes for success after the sentence was imposed.
"Based on what you have to say and what I know about you from your attorney, I know that you will succeed when you're released and that you will prevail. I wish you success," Mills said.
Wright's attorney said the defendant had a difficult childhood, witnessing domestic violence and suffering sexual abuse, before she met Mark Strong, her eventual business partner. She said Strong used her background to manipulate her.
Addressing the judge through tears, Wright said she felt relief when police raided her business on Feb. 12, 2012, because she wanted out. She said she intends to work when she's released to help other women in similar situations.
"In my eyes I'm free. I free from this. And I have an incredible amount of strength that I knew was in me somewhere. Now that I have the strength I want to encourage others to come forward. I want them to know that there's at least one person out there who'll believe their story, no matter how crazy it seems," she told the judge.
"It's my intention to stand up for what is right. When I'm out, I'm going to pursue helping people fight through situations that are similar to mine. I'm optimistic that something good will come out of this."
Afterward, she was led from court to begin serving her sentence.
The 30-year-old Wright was accused of conspiring with an insurance business owner to run a prostitution business in which she videotaped clients without their knowledge and kept detailed records over an 18-month period indicating she made $150,000 tax-free. She also collected more than $40,000 in public assistance.
The scandal in the seaside town of Kennebunk, known for its sea captain's mansions, beaches and New England charm, became a sensation following reports that Wright had at least 150 clients, some of them prominent. So far, those who have been charged include a former mayor, a high school hockey coach, a minister, a lawyer and a firefighter.
Wright was originally charged with 106 counts. All the counts in the plea agreement were misdemeanors, including three counts relating to welfare and tax fraud that were reduced from felonies.
Under the agreement, prosecutors will seek restitution of $57,280.54. Prosecutors say Wright cooperated with prosecutors and spared the state an expensive trial.
Her business partner, Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was convicted of 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. The married father of two, who has acknowledged having an affair with Wright, was originally charged with 59 counts.
It came as little surprise that Wright opted to avoid standing trial by pleading guilty because evidence against her was overwhelming in Strong's trial, with jurors watching a video of her engaging in sex with a client who left $250, which she pocketed.
Prosecutors say paid sex happened in her studio, apartment and an office, where tenants complained about moaning and groaning.
Electronic evidence was plentiful because the two kept in touch via text, email and Skype, which Wright used to send a live video stream of sex acts to Strong. Videos also showed them speaking openly of ledgers, payments and scheduling.
Evidence unsealed after the trial indicated electronic exchanges in which Wright talked about the business goals: nine clients a week, 45 clients a month. They also openly discussed scheduling, insurance payments, her sexy outfits and clients' preferences. She even appeared to seek advice from Strong after encountering an unhappy client.
Business was running smoothly before it came to an abrupt end.
"I feel like this is going to be a good week," Wright wrote to Strong two days before the arrival of detectives with search warrants on Feb. 14, 2012.