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No jury yet in Zumba prostitution case

ALFRED, Maine — Two days of closed-door court proceedings failed to produce a jury Wednesday for the first trial of a major figure charged in a prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba dance studio.

The remaining prospective jurors — about 50 to 60 out of an original jury pool numbering more than 140 — were told to return Thursday as the judge attempts to finish the selection process and begin opening statements in the trial.

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Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston, faces 59 misdemeanor counts including conspiring with dance instructor Alexis Wright, who is accused of using her studio in the seaside community of Kennebunk as a front for prostitution.

The married insurance agent has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright, but said he never paid her for sex. Characterizing himself as a business partner, Strong said he helped Wright launch her studio by cosigning for her lease and lending her money.

Both Strong and Wright have pleaded not guilty.

On NBC’s ‘‘Today,’’ Strong said Wednesday that he is guilty of cheating on his wife but not of accusations of promoting prostitution or invasion of privacy for allegedly viewing sex videos featuring unsuspecting clients. He said he rejected a plea deal because he is innocent of the charges against him.

The jury selection process in York County Superior Court has been cloaked in secrecy, with potential jurors questioned ­behind closed doors by the judge and lawyers.

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Justice Nancy Mills on Wednesday rejected a request by The Portland Press Herald to open the proceedings to the public, and the selection process continued through the day, even as the newspaper asked the state Supreme Court to inter­vene.

Lawyers have been ordered not to talk to reporters.

There are 72 names on the witness list for Strong’s trial; those include at least three men who have been convicted of engag­ing with a prostitute, their lawyers have said.

Police said Wright kept ­meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. So far, more than 60 people have been charged or convicted in the case. Wright faces 106 counts including prostitution and ­invasion of privacy. She will be tried at a later date.

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