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Maine Zumba instructor pleads guilty to prostitution

Prosecutors say they will recommend a jail term of 10 months after Alexis Wright (right) pleaded guilty to 20 counts of prostitution, conspiracy, and tax evasion.

John ewing/Portland Press Herald via associated press

Prosecutors say they will recommend a jail term of 10 months after Alexis Wright (right) pleaded guilty to 20 counts of prostitution, conspiracy, and tax evasion.

PORTLAND, Maine — A dance instructor accused of using her Zumba fitness studio as a front for prostitution pleaded guilty Friday to 20 counts in a scandal that captivated a quiet seaside town.

The agreement that followed a second day of plea negotiations on Friday spares Alexis Wright from the prospect of a high-profile trial featuring sex videos, exhibitionism, and pornography. Prosecutors will recommend a jail sentence of 10 months when she is sentenced on May 31.

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Wright quietly answered ‘‘guilty’’ 20 times when the judge read the counts, which include engaging in prostitution, promotion of prostitution, conspiracy, tax evasion, and theft by deception.

‘‘We’re very satisfied with it. It’s an appropriate outcome, given the gravity of her actions,’’ Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell said after the brief court hearing.

Wright, 30, was accused of conspiring with insurance agent Mark Strong Sr. to run a prostitution business in which she kept detailed records indicating she made $150,000 over an 18-month period. She was also accused of using a hidden camera to record sex acts without her clients’ knowledge.

She was originally charged with 106 counts. All the counts in the agreement were misdemeanors, including three counts relating to welfare and tax fraud that were reduced from felonies.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was convicted this month of 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. He was originally charged with 59 counts.

The scandal became a sensation following reports that Wright had at least 150 clients, leading to a guessing game of who might be named publicly in the coastal town of Kennebunk, a community better known for its beaches and sea captains’ homes than for crime.

Lawyers who have seen the client list say it included some prominent names.

Those who have been charged so far include a former mayor, a high school hockey coach, a minister, a lawyer, and a firefighter.

Working together, Strong and Wright represented an unusual pairing.

Wright had attended college classes and ran dance classes for the local parks and recreation program before opening her studio in Kennebunk. But she was also engaging in paid sex acts in the studio, in her apartment and in her office, law enforcement officials said.

Overseeing the operation and watching the sex acts live on his office computer 100 miles up the coast was Strong, a married father of two who ran a successful insurance agency in Thomaston.

It came as no surprise that Wright would seek a plea agreement, because evidence presented in Strong’s trial was so overwhelming. A video played for jurors showed Wright engaging in sex acts with a man who then inquired about her rate before leaving $250 cash on her massage table.

After the man left, the video showed Wright pocketing the money.

There was plenty of electronic evidence, because the two kept in touch via text and e-mail and because Wright videotaped the clients and Strong watched live via Skype.

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will seek restitution of $57,250 from Wright after she is released from jail.

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