PORTLAND — The business partner of a Zumba instructor accused of using her dance studio as a front for prostitution is headed for trial next week after last-minute plea negotiations failed and a judge refused to let his lawyer withdraw from the case.
The case against Mark Strong Sr. expanded into a “behemoth” with a half-dozen agencies investigating, defense lawyer Dan Lilley told the judge, and Strong didn’t have the resources to pay for expert witnesses and forensic examinations.
“Unfortunately, this case blossomed, becoming a great deal larger when that one count became 59 counts,” Lilley told the judge Friday in Superior Court.
But Justice Nancy Mills was unmoved, pointing out that Lilley previously pressed for a speedy trial and said he didn’t need a bunch of experts. She rejected his request to withdraw, just as she rejected previous motions to delay the trial and to move it to another location. The trial was set to begin with jury selection Tuesday in Alfred.
The brief hearing Friday followed a closed-door settlement conference in which Lilley and the prosecutor were unable to reach a plea agreement. Lilley declined to comment on the discussions.
Strong, an insurance agent from Thomaston, faces 59 misdemeanor charges including conspiring with Alexis Wright, who authorities say ran a prostitution operation out of her Zumba studio in Kennebunk. He also was charged with violation of privacy and promotion of prostitution.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
The 57-year-old Strong originally was charged in the summer with one misdemeanor count. But the case expanded after police continued to investigate.
Police said Wright videotaped many of the encounters without her clients’ knowledge and kept records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
Lilley said Friday that Kennebunk police, Thomaston police, state police, sheriff’s deputies, drug agents and the Secret Service are part of the investigation.
Prosecutors say the case will last two to three weeks. Lilley called it “over the top.”
“It’s prosecutors … who’re on steroids, because I’ve never seen a case with such minor charges with so many state resources put into it,” he said.
He added: “Two to three weeks for a trial of this nature is unheard of, and I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Justina McGettigan, the deputy district attorney in York County, where the case will be tried, said the state took no position on Lilley’s request to be removed from the case. She left the courthouse without talking to reporters.
In October, Strong issued a statement claiming he did not engage in any criminal activity. He said he helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid with interest.
He also said they had a personal relationship but he never paid for sex.
“I have made some bad choices but have broken no laws,” he said.
Strong declined to address most reporters’ questions but answered a question about his financial problems.
“I’m doing the best I can with what I have to work with,” he said.
Wright faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts authorities say were performed in her dance studio and in a rented office across the street.