Town on edge after Zumba instructor accused of prostitution

From Adam Reiss, CNN

(CNN) – An image on the website of Pura Vida Studio, in the picturesque Maine town of Kennebunk, shows 18 smiling women and one man flushed after an arduous dance workout.

But that’s not the full picture, authorities say.

Prosecutors say 29-year-old fitness instructor Alexis Wright was paid to have sex with customers in her Zumba studio. She allegedly got help from her business partner Mark Strong, a 57-year-old insurance salesman and private investigator.

Wright is accused of having sex with dozens of men and videotaping many of the encounters. Strong’s lawyer, Dan Lilley, tells CNN that prosecutors have given him a list of 150 patrons and a computer hard drive with some videos, with erotic titles, that are part of the investigation.

Neither Wright — whose studio is “now closed,” according to its website — nor her attorney, Sarah Churchill, returned calls from CNN. The local district attorney declined to comment on the case.

Both of the accused pleaded not guilty this month to prostitution-related charges: 106 against Wright and 59 counts against Strong.

According to Kennebunk police, authorities were tipped off in September 2011 to illicit activity at the studio. A subsequent investigation, with help from Maine’s State Police and the Drug Enforcement Agency, led to the execution of search warrants on February 14.

Police arrested Strong on July 10, making the case public for the first time. That was followed by indictments against him and Wright. And the whole case has fueled debate, in Kennebunk and in the courts, about whether the alleged clients should be publicly shamed.

Today, the town — a stone’s throw from the tourist haven and rocky shores of Kennebunkport where, among others, former President George H.W. Bush has a seaside home — is on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Police have been handing out summonses to those accused of soliciting a prostitute; all who receive one would then have to appear in court to answer the misdemeanor charges.

According to Lilley, the Johns include lawyers, accountants and even a local TV personality.

The Kennebunk Police Department routinely detail who in their community has been charged, with what crime, on its website. But the names of those accused of paying to have sex with Wright have not been published — at least not yet.

In a notice posted online, the department said Friday it is waiting to release names pending an appeal made to the state Supreme Judicial Court of a lower court ruling denying a temporary restraining order to block the identities from getting out. Kennebunk Police plan to hold off releasing further information until the high court weighs in on the case.

Until then, tensions are high in Kennebunk about what might happen if some of its most prominent townsfolk are publicly shamed.

Josh Raymond, who works at a bakery in the town of just over 5,000 residents, said customers are talking about the scandal, but in hushed tones. And local radio host Stan Bennett said about half his listeners support outing Wright’s alleged clients, while half think it’s not worth the pain it might cause their children.

Despite public pressure not to, the York County Coast Star has signaled its intention to publish the names — like they would anyone else charged with a crime — once police release that information.

The newspaper’s editor, Laura Dolce, wrote the decision to do so wasn’t easy, understanding “many in the community… would prefer we not print the names at all.” But she said listing the names was the right thing to do, making it clear who authorities believe was and was not involved.

“There are people in this community who have had their names dragged through the mud for months because people believe they are on the list,” Dolce said. “We also believe that printing the names of those charged with engaging a prostitute is the fair thing to do… to help set the record straight and put to rest the ugly rumors that continue to circulate throughout town.”

CNN’s Greg Botelho, Kristina Sgueglia and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.


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