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Landlord for Maine Zumba instructor says he was suspicious about prostitution after complaints

York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan gives her opening statements in York County Superior Court, Alfred, Maine, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, during the trial of Mark Strong Sr. Strong is accused of helping Alexis Wright run a one-woman prostitution business from a Kennebunk dance studio. (AP Photo/Portland Press Herald, Shawn Patrick Ouellette)

ALFRED, Maine – A landlord who rented office space to a Zumba instructor accused of being a prostitute testified he became suspicious when tenants heard “groaning and moaning.” A pizza shop manager told a jury that the woman disrobed in front of him during a delivery.

The risque details emerged in court Thursday as testimony began in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., an insurance businessman charged with 13 counts that accuse him of helping the fitness instructor engage in prostitution.

The 30-year-old woman, Alexis Wright, is accused of engaging in prostitution at the dance studio, at an office across the street and at her own home. Authorities have said she videotaped clients without their knowledge. She will be tried later.

Christopher West, a landlord who rented office space to Wright, testified he began receiving complaints from other tenants within a couple of weeks. He testified about loud music, moaning, groaning and laughter coming from the office.

He became suspicious when he witnessed men coming and going. He told police he intended to evict her but was asked him to hold off because of an ongoing investigation. After police executed a search warrant, he said he discovered a box of adult toys, a bin of used condoms and baby wipes, and a massage table. An agent seized two video cameras, including one that was hidden.

Dan Racaniello, manager of a pizza shop next to the studio, testified that when he delivered spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, Wright came to the door wearing only a towel, which she dropped to reveal she was naked. She paid $40 for the $8 meal and told him to keep the change.

“She fussed around with her wallet and off goes the towel. I felt awkward,” said Racaniello, who left her apartment stunned both by the nudity and a generous tip, saying, “It made my day.”

Both Strong and Wright have pleaded not guilty.

Strong helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money with commercial notes that were repaid with interest. He contends he didn’t know about allegations of prostitution, and testimony Thursday indicated that he didn’t sign any documents related to the rented office.

The defence contends the married Strong engaged in bad behaviour by having an affair with Wright but didn’t engage in criminal conduct. Prosecutors, meanwhile, contend Strong communicated frequently with Wright about business details via video chat, email and text.

The case has generated attention because of the size of the alleged operation and its location in a quaint seaside village near Kennebunkport, home of the Bush family’s Walker’s Point summer compound.

A lawyer who’s seen Wright’s alleged client list says it includes more than 150 names, some of them prominent. More than 60 people have been charged so far with engaging a prostitute. Law enforcement officials say Wright kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.