PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An insurance agent who helped run a prostitution operation out of his mistress’s Zumba studio and watched sex videos made with a hidden camera will serve 20 days in jail for a scandal that rocked a seaside community better known for its beaches and sea captains’ homes than for crime.
Mark Strong Sr. told the judge Thursday that he was sorry for the pain he caused his family, and his wife broke down in sobs during a plea 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 controlled every facet of the Kennebunk operation, monitoring fitness instructor Alexis Wright’s calendar, reviewing her ledgers, collecting dossiers on clients and watching the sexual encounters streamed live to the computer in his office 100 miles up the coast in Thomaston.
Strong also suggested boosting profits by marketing to higher-paying fetish clients and engaging in paid sex acts with multiple men simultaneously, 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 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 that 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.
Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills imposed a 20-day sentence on the first count of promotion of prostitution and concurrent sentences on the remaining 12 misdemeanor counts. She also imposed $3,000 in fines.
Twenty days in jail may not seem like a huge sentence given the amount of international publicity that the case received. But the penalty was in line with state sentencing guidelines for a misdemeanor that some people might describe as a “victimless crime” and for which the defendant has no criminal record and poses no threat to society, said Jim Burke, clinical professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.
“The only reason people might think the sentence sounds light is because they’re not paying attention to the crime and are looking at the hoopla and circus,” he said. “It was a good story while it lasted but it wasn’t a big crime.”
Strong, 57, has acknowledged helping the 30-year-old Wright open her dance studio but contends he didn’t profit from prostitution.
That was contradicted Thursday by prosecutors who said Strong received 20 percent of prostitution revenue under an agreement with Wright.
In court, Strong told the judge that he should’ve owned up to his mistakes right away instead of trying to minimize them. “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 those 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.”
The judge credited law enforcement for being diligent in what was initially investigated as a statewide prostitution ring with potential extortion because the prostitution clients had been videotaped without their knowledge.
In sentencing Strong, Mills 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 and friends who sat in the courtroom 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.
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.