KENNEBUNK, Maine -- This upscale southern Maine town is known for its ocean beaches, old sea captains' mansions and the neighboring town of Kennebunkport, home to the Bush family summer compound.
But the talk of the town these days is the arrest of a local fitness instructor who's been charged with running a prostitution business out of her Zumba dance studio and secretly videotaping her encounters. Now the town is on the edge of its seat, waiting for the revelation of which of their friends and neighbors are among her more than 100 alleged johns.
"There's still some of that puritanical New England left around," said Will Bradford, who owns a copy shop in town. "There are places in the world that would laugh at this."
Alexis Wright, 29, was dressed conservatively in a jacket, blouse and slacks as she pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Portland to 106 counts of prostitution, violation of privacy, tax evasion and other charges for allegedly providing sex for money at her fitness studio and a nearby one-room office she rented. The man police say was her business partner, 57-year-old Mark Strong Sr., pleaded not guilty to 59 counts of promotion of prostitution and violation of privacy.
Prosecutors haven't detailed why Wright would have been videotaping her encounters. But they gathered more than 100 hours of video and nearly 14,000 screen shots from seized computers, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said.
"The state's in over its head. This case isn't ready for prosecution," Daniel Lilly, Strong's lawyer, said at the hearing.
Wright's lawyer, Sarah Churchill, has declined to comment, and the defendants did not speak as they left the hearing. Wright, who lives in the nearby community of Wells and is the single mother of a young son, and Strong are free on personal recognizance.
Police have begun issuing summons to Wright's customers and will release the names in the weeks ahead. Townspeople say they've heard that lawyers, doctors, law enforcement officials, a television personality and other well-known people in town are included in a detailed clientele list police found.
A lot of people would rather not see the names made public because it will hurt families, children and careers, said Dan Breton, the owner of a convenience store and deli.
"I think most of my customers were shocked this was going on," Breton said. "But any time something like that happens, people get curious. It's almost like the newspapers are teasing us that there are prominent names on the list. But maybe it'll be nothing."
The superintendent of schools issued a memo to teachers and staff last week, instructing them to be on the lookout for students who have relatives on the list of names and may be teased or have trouble coping.
Wright opened her Pura Vida fitness studio teaching Zumba, a Latin-inspired fitness program that combines aerobics and dance, in 2010 about a block from the downtown business district in this town of about 10,000 people 25 miles south of Portland, the state's largest city. She later rented a one-room office across the street, above a hair salon and a flower store.
That same year, an anonymous blog appeared accusing Wright of not being the sweet, friendly Zumba instructor she portrayed herself to be. "She's living a double life and is a porn star. She may be a prostitute for all I know," the first blog entry reads.
Police began investigating after hearing reports of 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, of Thomaston, was arrested in July.
The landlord who rented the office space to Wright told investigators one of his tenants sometimes heard "moaning and groaning" coming from Wright's office, the affidavit says.
When the landlord checked the office himself, he found a massage table and a video camera set up on a tripod. He told police he later found an online porn video of Wright that was recorded in the office, which he recognized by the walls, the floor and the window.
When police raided the studio and office in February, they seized electronic ledgers of sexual acts, video recordings and records of clients and the sexual acts performed by Wright, according to the affidavit. Judging by what they found, police said, Wright's sexual activities generated as much as $150,000.
Investigators said there was both a "business and personal" connection between Strong and the activity at the studio. Video footage showed Wright and Strong having sex, according to the affidavit.
Bee Nguyen, who rented the studio space to Wright and Strong, said Tuesday he often saw cars pulling up to the back of the studio and men going in but didn't think anything of it.
"She had a boyfriend," said Nguyen, adding that Wright and Strong owe him about $10,000 in back rent.
It wasn't clear whether Wright still has custody of her son; the agency that oversees child welfare says it can't comment.
It wouldn't be surprising to hear of a prostitution operation with clients coming and going day and night in a big city, residents say – but not in Kennebunk, a tourist town with traditional white-steeple churches, tree-lined streets and quaint bed-and-breakfasts.
"Still, the fact that it's happening in Kennebunk shows we're not above it all," Greg Patterson said while getting a haircut at a downtown barber shop.
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.
Lubed Up And Locked Up
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Sucker For A Deal
Crystal Frantzen allegedly gave Gary Tipton oral sex in a gas station parking lot in order to get a "better deal" on a Cadillac he was selling. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/crystal-frantzen-gary-tipton-oral-sex-better-deal-car_n_2962844.html?1364393996" target="_blank">Read the whole story here.</a>
Menage a TERROR
Mindi and David Rice were engaging in a three-way with a female friend, but when MIndi noticed David was giving the friend a little too much attention, she allegedly reached for a revolver. The ensuing madness ended with gunfire, SWAT team involvement and a police tasing. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/mindi-david-rice-threeway-gunshots-swat-team_n_1855310.html">Read the whole story here.</a>
A Knife To Remember
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More Cushion For The Pushin'
Talk about a love seat. Gerard Streator was allegedly caught having sex with a couch on the side of the road. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/gerard-streator-sex-with-couch_n_1909699.html">Read the whole story here.</a>
Dude, Where's My Dildo?
Arteesha Donaldson became upset when she lost her "detachable latex penis," cops say, which caused an argument between Donaldson and her girlfriend. The fight allegedly ended with Donaldson chucking at ironing board. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/arteesha-donaldson-south-carolina-assault-sex-toy-detachable-penis_n_2200389.html">Read the whole story here.</a>
Don't Come Quickly
Racquel Gonzalez was allegedly none too pleased when her boyfriend orgasmed and she didn't. She allegedly responded by scratching and hitting him, which caused him to call 911. The cops came not a moment too soon. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/racquel-gonzalez-esric-davis-orgasm-assault-sex_n_2200096.html">Read the whole story here.</a>
Japanese porn star Uta Kohaku asked her fans on Twitter to donate their sperm as part of an erotic film titled "Semen Collection 2." She received over 100 bottles in less than 10 days. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/27/uta-kohaku-japanese-porn-semen_n_2366349.html">Read more about it here.</a>
Tyshinia Love Brewster was working as a prison guard when she allegedly had sex with one of the inmates at the facility and became pregnant with his baby. Brewster was charged with third-degree rape, since inmates cannot legally give consent. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/21/tyshinia-love-brewster-prison-guard-pregnant-rape_n_2733481.html?1361462977">Read the whole story here.</a>
Did Somebody Say McCreepy?
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Sex, Guns, And Moving Cars
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Penis Stolen By Thieves
Fei Lin told law enforcement officials that men, believed to be jealous lovers of women Lin had bedded, broke into his home at night, cut off his penis, and stole it. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/24/fei-lin-penis_n_1699017.html">Read the whole story here.</a>
S&M aficionado Frankie Santiago was submissive -- until she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. Santiago allegedly began sending the man a slew of menacing text messages and was charged with stalking, criminal mischief and harassment. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/frankie-santiago-edward-sonderling_n_1791567.html">Read the whole story here.</a>
We've All Been There
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Dinner And A Show
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Man Cuts Off Penis, Forgets To Bring It To Hospital
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