PORTLAND, Maine — An insurance agent who helped run a prostitution operation out of his mistress’s Zumba studio and watched secretly videotaped sex acts was ordered Thursday to spend 20 days in jail in a scandal that rocked a community better known for its beaches and sea captains’ homes than for crime.
Before being sentenced, Mark Strong Sr. apologized for the pain he’d caused his family, and his wife broke down in sobs while making a plea to the judge for leniency.
“I do apologize for each of my selfish actions and the harm that I have caused many. Most importantly I want to apologize to my wife, my two sons and my entire family because I’ve caused so much hurt in so many ways, emotionally, physically and financially,” Strong said, his voice choking.
Prosecutors say Strong was involved in every facet of the Kennebunk operation with fitness instructor Alexis Wright, monitoring her calendar, reviewing her ledger, collecting dossiers on clients and watching the sexual encounters streamed to his office computer 100 miles away in Thomaston.
Strong even suggested ways to boost profits by marketing to higher-paying fetish clients and engaging in paid sex acts with multiple men at the same time, prosecutors said.
“This was not a man in love. This was not a voyeur. This was hard-nosed businessman,” said Deputy York County District Attorney Justina McGettigan, who asked the judge to sentence Strong to 364 days in jail, noting that the prostitution continued last year even after police raided Wright’s studio, office and apartment in Kennebunk.
Defense lawyer Dan Lilley asked for a maximum of 14 days in jail, telling the judge that police and prosecutors were overzealous in an investigation into fizzled with only two defendants and mostly minor charges.
“The state wanted Moby Dick but got fish bait. This is relatively minor case that has become, or did become, a media event. The simple fact is that the media … has already punished Mark Strong,” Lilley said.
Strong, 57, has acknowledged helping the 30-year-old Wright open her dance studio. He said he loaned her money that was repaid with interest, and that he didn’t profit from prostitution. But prosecutors said Thursday that he received 20 percent of Wright’s revenue from the prostitution business.
In court, Strong told the judge that he should’ve owned up to his mistakes right away. “Initially I wondered why this happened to me and why I’m going through this hell, when I should have accepted responsibility and instead focused on making amends for hose I hurt,” he said.
His wife, Julie, arm-in-arm with their son, Brad, broke down in tears as she pleaded for leniency, telling the judge that her husband “suffers from an illness that is curable.” She also said their marriage is better now that he’s confronting his illness.
“What started as my worst nightmare I could ever imagine has turned into one of God’s greatest gifts because God has given me a new marriage with a new man, and he is the man I always knew he was,” Julie Strong told the judge. “When I first saw him and met him, I could see a kind and gentle soul. Nobody chooses to do what he does.”
Justice Nancy Mills credited law enforcement for being diligent in what was initially investigated as a statewide prostitution ring with the potential for extortion because clients had been videotaped without their knowledge.
In sentencing Strong, she took into account that he had no criminal record, was a community leader in Thomaston and had strong family ties, as evidenced by more than a dozen family members in court to show support for Strong.
But she said jail time was warranted because of the duration and extent of the operation in which prosecutors say Wright made more than $150,000 over an 18-month period.
The judge imposed a 20-day sentence on the first count of promotion of prostitution, and concurrent sentences on the remaining 12 misdemeanor counts.
After the hearing, the judge revoked bail and Strong was taken away in handcuffs to begin serving his term in the York County Jail. The judge said Strong would complete his jail term in time to see his son get married.
Wright, who now lives in Wells, is due to stand trial in May. She faces 106 counts including prostitution, privacy violations, tax offenses and welfare fraud.
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