Prostitution in the old Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628-92), which then ran north into southern Maine and included the seaside town of Kennebunk (“So Close, Yet Worlds Away”), was a hanging offense.

Times have changed however.  And so on Friday a state judge in Portland accepted a plea deal from alleged Zumba dance madam Alexis Wright on 20 of 106 prostitution charges against her.  Wright will pay a fine of $57,000 for falsely accepting state welfare payments and for failing to pay back taxes on her dance business in the “quaint” community known for vacationing Bushes.  Wright is also facing a 10 month jail sentence.

Unlike accused witches, whores and johns from the time of the Salem witch trials, Wright will not be hanged or have a giant boulder lowered onto her heaving breasts to extract a confession about the men from Boston, Portland and wherever who dallied with her in her dance studio on a quiet Kennebunk side street from roughly October 2010 to February 2012.

It’s possible most if not all of the alleged johns involved will move on unscathed, legally at least, even if some scolding from family members who knew what they were up to lingers like a cloud of clucking Fox News commentary.

Harlan Harrington, crack CHNN international reporter, landed the CHNN Flying Boat on picturesque Casco Bay earlier this week to cover Wright’s plea.

“The thing here is, while locals yawn a lot now and claim they’re bored with the whole thing with Alexis, the larger benefit of the court agreement is that not only will none of the estimated 150 johns in the case be executed, they’ll probably just get about their spring cleaning and fret about important stuff, like the Red Sox’ chances this year,” Harrington said.

Harrington referred to dire punishments handed out to settlers back in the day, when yeoman farmers and their yeowoman wives (or yeowomen partners) tilled the rocky New England soil, trying to get some corn out of the ground while beating the varied seasons – either planting in the spring or storing harvested grains before bitter winters, ever on the alert for blight, rampaging Indians and hungry moose.

“Those were tough times,” said Harrington, who agreed to a special assignment to cover the Wright plea as he prepares for yet another trip to cover the Italian political scene in which two de facto professional clowns may try to form a coalition government in the land of bunga bunga.

“Those Puritan leaders and judges didn’t mess with dilly-dalliers and freelance fornicators then,” Harrington said of the Massachusetts Bay Colony hierarchy.  “Don’t forget, it was only at the turn of the millennium that the remaining dozen or so accused Salem witches were finally pardoned by the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Jane Swift, serving briefly as the state’s acting governor (and the state’s only female governor in history) signed off on the pardons, which must have gotten lost over the years, possibly in some old, dusty binders.  Swift served as governor from 2001-3 after Paul Cellucci resigned to take a cushy Bush appointment as ambassador to Canada, and before Mitt Romney’s term as governor from 2003-07.

When the Zumba madam story broke in October last year, the international press invaded bucolic Kennebunk.  There were mass sea landings of paparazzi.

At the time a wicked high number of area men – executives, general contractors, a high school hockey coach, a lawyer, a firefighter, a minister, a former elected official or two, a local TV personality, and the head of a Boston-based investment company - were linked to Wright as johns, customers who got it on with the Maine-born madam in her second floor retail space off Main Street.

The names of 64 of the 150 were released by police last year, with furious court negotiations prior to Wright’s plea last week yielding some charges which prosecutors say will be pursued.

Still, one man has actually faced the music.  Thomaston businessman Mark Strong, 54, was convicted last month on 13 misdemeanor counts (out of a total of 59 filed) of promoting prostitution and invasion of privacy as Wright’s pimp.  Strong was sentenced to 20 days in jail.

Wright, who was raised in nearby Topsham, home of the Topsham Fair, set up her dance studio in 2010.  Wright studied “natural sciences” at a state college for a time, and after a while became active in Kennebunk as a Zumba dance master (and madam), eventually advertising (a bit casually it turns out) online, with slogans and come-ons like:  “You put a constant smile on my face, giggles, and other noises I won’t mention here” while cautioning potential customers that “fantasy role-playing and fetish may be extra.”  Wright and Strong videoed most of her encounters with area johns (as many as 100 hours’ worth), and many of the recordings have appeared on porn websites.

“Every class feels like a party,” Wright also gushed on her site, which locals agreed was a long way from Wright’s Topsham days where the big entertainments at the fair were sheep herding and shearing, saltwater taffy, pie eating contests, and oxen pulls.

“These guys have got to pay the price,” Kennebunk resident Alison Ackley said when the news of Wright’s real business became known.  Ackley was a regular dance client, one of many local women who would Zumba an afternoon away with Wright, apparently oblivious to offerings on the second floor of the High Street rental space, which was a lot more than polka lessons.

More normal days have returned to Kennebunk.  Fresh caught lobsters are selling at the docks for little more than $4 a pound; native clam rolls are readily available; and dancers seen in another vacant storefront on Main Street last week were practicing tight-lipped, beginners tango – a sign to some of a return to regular rhythms and such along the southern Maine coast.


  1. cocktailhag says:

    What a lovely and inspiring tale. Of course, after what happened to David Vitter, nothing, maybe these guys should form their own Pride group, and eventually work their way into legalizing harems.

    • dirigo says:

      Notice Strong gets 20 days (probably suspended) and no fine. Harlan has to gas up the Flying Boat to make it to Naples in time to secure docking space, so we may not know right away if Alexis does her full 10 months in the pokey and pays the full fine. I say throw the book at her.

  2. nswfm says:

    They tape the johns and nothing happens to them? Jeebus!

  3. RUKidding says:

    I first read about Alexis Wright’s not-so-clandestine, after-hours hokey-pokey “classes” in Vanity Fair Magazine:

    Wright seemed to be playing rather fast & loose – stupid pun intended – with how she advertised her hokey-pokey “classes.” Not too bright to be that obvious. Plus then she & her pal videotaped the hokey-pokey and put it up on the Internet. WTF? Literally…

    The whole thing is rather odd. I *think* some of the johns were fined, plus some of them got to be publically “shamed” by having their names published. I assume that the ones who didn’t get fined or have their names published are rich enough to buy off the right people.

    Times have changed, though, haven’t they? Frankly, I don’t know why prostitution isn’t just legalized. That would enable these women & men to have a legit way to pay their taxes, plus the whole s/he-BANG could be better regulated. The women & men could have better protection in general, plus have to be tested for STDs and such.

    However, I think there’s too much money to be made when it’s illegal, plus we have all this fake “moralizing” going on with the so-called “GOP,” so I won’t hold my breath.