29-year-old single mom and Zumba teacher by day, alleged madam by night, ran an organized prostitution ring in the upscale resort town of Kennebunkport, Maine, according to authorities. Alexis Wright allegedly kept detailed records, including video recordings of the encounters that took place in the one-room “shag pad” she rented above a flower shop, across from her Zumba fitness studio. Now Maine authorities are releasing the names in her little black book, plunging the New England town into scandal.
Wright is charged with 106 counts of prostitution, violation of privacy, tax evasion and other related charges. She has pleaded not guilty in a Portland superior court. The district attorney also charged her business partner, Mark Strong Sr., with 59 counts of promoting prostitution and violation of privacy, and he has likewise pleaded not guilty.
A trial judge in the case against Mark Strong Sr. dismissed 45 counts of invasion of privacy and one count of conspiracy to commit violation of privacy. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Feb. 15 upheld the trial judge’s ruling that prostitution clients don’t have privacy rights under a state law that protects people from surveillance in places like dressing rooms.
Strong still faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.
While the charges against Wright and Strong are extremely serious, prostitution charges often do not carry the same heavy penalties as other serious crimes. Generally, courts and prosecutors recognize that a prostitute is victimized by the crime, and punishments tend to take the form of fines, awareness education and short jail terms.
When East Coast power brokers want a break from the stress of New York or Washington, they head up to the sleepy fishing village of Kennebunkport, Maine. A town known for its quaint local charm, stately old mansions and relaxing pace of life — and its truly influential homeowners, including the Bush family – Kennebunkport is the place for the rich and powerful to relax, get back to nature and get away from scandal.
Now Kennebunkport has a scandal to call its own. A young Zumba instructor was charged with over 100 counts of prostitution and invasion of privacy, allegedly using her fitness studio as a front for an elaborate sex ring.
Alexis Wright, 29, is a beautiful and bubbly single mother whose popular Pura Vida fitness studio added a touch of Latin dance spice to the otherwise quiet seaside town. Authorities allege that she built up her clientele through the studio, and then she would ask clients to meet across the street at the one-room “shag pad” she rented above a florist.
When police raided her studio and the rented room, they claimed they found meticulously-detailed records of her clients, including video footage of sex acts, apparently recorded without permission. Prosecutors say they have more than 100 hours of video and nearly 14,000 screen shots from seized computers.
According to law enforcement, Wright’s books revealed she was bringing in over $150,000 a month in business.
Since Wright’s arraignment on Oct. 9, 2012, local law enforcement has begun to reveal the names of the men included in Wright’s books. Judge Thomas Warren ruled that the names could be revealed, but for privacy purposes, addresses and other identifying information must be withheld.
There are over 100 named johns in all, including prominent law enforcement officials, lawyers, doctors and television personalities.
Wright did not work alone. Her alleged business partner, Mark Strong, 57, was also involved – and may have been involved on a level beyond helping a young woman establish her business, as police stated that there is video footage of Strong and Wright engaging in sex as well.
Police began investigating after neighbors reported cars coming to the studio and the office at all hours of the day and night and men going in for a half-hour or hour at a time, according to a police affidavit released when Strong was arrested in July.
Bee Nguyen, the landlord, said he often saw cars pulling up to the back of the studio and men going in, and he would even occasionally hear “moaning and groaning,” but didn’t think anything of it.
Mark Strong was convicted of 13 counts relating to promotion of prostitution and was sentenced to 20 days in jail.
The “Zumba Madame” pled guilty March 29, 2013, to 20 counts including engaging in prostitution, promotion of prostitution, conspiracy, tax evasion and theft by deception. At her sentencing Wright pulled a surprise move and divulged that she believed her business partner, Strong, had tricked her into believing she was a secret operative investigating sexual deviance. Prosecutors maintained that she was a “willing” participant.
Wright served six months of a 10-month sentence that was reduced because of good behavior and participation in a work program. She was released Nov. 25, 2013, the week of Thanksgiving.
Alexis Wright – Local fitness instructor charged with running a prostitution ring out of her Zumba Dance Studio, Pura Vida, which she opened in 2010 about two blocks from Kennebunkport’s downtown business district. She is also the single mother of a young Boy.
Mark Strong – Wright’s alleged business partner pleaded not guilty to 59 counts of promotion of prostitution and violation of privacy. He was ultimately convicted of 13 counts on March 6, 2013, and his sentencing is scheduled for March 19.
Alexis Wright Keeps Excellent Business Records, Secret Videos
Zumba Instructor Multitasks As A Small Town Madam
Introduction: One thing to keep in mind when thinking about this case is that Kennebunkport isn’t New York, Los Angeles, or Washington. Kennebunkport is an old New England town that still retains some Puritanical values. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in Maine, and it certainly does not happen in Kennebunkport, Maine.
In some cities, a case like this would get a good laugh, the accused madam would be sentenced to a short jail term and a hefty fine, and the lawyers and judges would call it a day. But something tells us that Kennebunkport isn’t laughing and that Alexis Wright is not going to get off with a slap on the wrist.
It’s plain to see that Wright thought she was being clever by videotaping her encounters. If anyone threatened to expose her, she could use the video for blackmail. But it was that kind of cocky cleverness, leaving hard video evidence of her crimes, that ultimately got her in trouble. It will be very hard for her lawyers to argue that she was not involved to the extent of the charges when there’s video to back it all up.
One potential argument her lawyers might make is that Wright was a victim in a grander scheme orchestrated by Mark Strong, the older man who is somehow involved. If they can show that Strong was the guiding force behind the prostitution ring, or that he was mostly responsible for bringing in clients, Wright could make a convincing argument that she was a vulnerable woman who was acting at the direction of an older, stronger man.
December 12, 2012: As the names of Wright’s johns are leaked to the press, continuing to send New England all a-flutter, some johns are quietly coming forward and accepting guilty pleas in exchange for the relatively minor fine of $500-$1,000.
Meanwhile, Wright and “business partner” Strong are looking at very serious penalties indeed.
This is one of those interesting splits in the justice system that we’d love to have our trial junkies’ opinions about. Why do you think the johns are facing a less severe punishment than Wright? Why does solicitation of prostitution carry a lighter penalty than engaging in prostitution? This is clearly a crime that requires two willing participants — why is one more culpable than the other? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Speaking only for myself, this WAT lawyer thinks that this is not a just result for the johns or for Wright. In the vast majority of prostitution cases, the prostitute is more of a victim than her customer. Generally speaking these women are involved in abusive relationships with controlling pimps and madams and have little or no personal agency. There is no reason why she should be punished more severely than the men who make her job possible.
In this particular case it’s a little more muddied because from the facts we have it seems like Wright had more personal involvement in the business aspects of her prostitution gig. Even still, prostitution takes two to tango — and letting the johns slink into the background with a $500 fine while Wright faces prison time just seems inequitable.