By Ted Shaffrey and David Sharp
KENNEBUNK, Maine —
Last-minute legal wrangling made it unclear Friday whether curious residents would find out who in this seaside town stands accused of giving business to a fitness instructor charged with running a prostitution operation out of her Zumba studio and a small office.
A state judge declined to stop the release of the names but a lawyer was filing an appeal of that decision Friday.
Alexis Wright, a 29-year-old fitness instructor from Wells, has pleaded not guilty to prostitution, invasion of privacy and other charges for allegedly accepting money for sex and secretly videotaping her encounters. Her business partner also has pleaded not guilty.
Searches of Wright’s studio and office turned up video recordings of sexual acts, billing information and meticulous records about clients, according to court documents.
Based on that information, Kennebunk police have been begun issuing summonses to Wright’s johns on misdemeanor charges of engaging a prostitute. The first names were to be released Friday, but the police department was awaiting word from the courts before proceeding, said Lt. Anthony Burpee.
Lawyer Stephen Schwartz was appealing a decision by a District judge in Biddeford, who declined Thursday night to intervene and stop the release of identities.
He also was asking permission to take the case to Superior Court in Portland, where a judge was handling the case against Wright and business partner, Mark Strong Sr., a 57-year-old insurance agent and private investigator from Thomaston, who has pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor charges.
“We believe very strongly that their names ought not be released. The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case in which the government, we believe, will have great difficulty proving,” Schwartz said.
The existence of the list of johns has fueled speculation about who is on it. Residents have said they’ve heard it could include lawyers, law enforcement officers and some well-known names.
Strong’s attorney, Dan Lilley, has said he has a list of or more than 150 people who were alleged customers, but that he wouldn’t release the names unless they’re called as witnesses if the case goes to trial.
Allison Ackley, who participated in Wright’s Zumba class, said she had no idea that Wright was allegedly leading a double life.
“She was very professional. She was an amazing dancer and she held a good class so I liked going. I thought she was a little, not risque but a little flirtatious, with a couple of the male participants in the class. But it’s Zumba. You’re there to have fun. I didn’t think anything of it.”
The case has rocked this small town, which is well-known for its ocean beaches, old sea captains’ mansions and the neighboring town of Kennebunkport, home to the Bush family’s Walker’s Point summer compound.
“It’ll be interesting to see who’s on that list because we’re hearing that there are selectmen, there are policemen, that there are firemen — people that we’re going to know in town,” said local resident Elaine Nicholson. “So everyone is, like, waiting with bated breath.”