Long before the world knew 29-year-old Alexis Wright as the “Zumba Madam,” before her arrest on charges that she ran a brothel in a dance studio, it was clear to the employees of Toppings Pizza that something was rotten in Kennebunk, Maine.
A sign outside the “Pura Vida Studio” at 8 York Street advertised nutrition counseling and Zumba dance lessons, but many of its clients were men in sport coats, not stretchy pants, the pizza parlor’s manager told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. And when those men disappeared inside the 2,500-square foot studio, Wright covered the windows with sheets and blankets. The sheets did little to muffle the carnal soundtrack emanating from inside.
“She wasn’t very discreet,” said Rose-Anna Racaniello, whose brother owns the pizza place, next door to the now-shuttered studio. “We all knew this was going to happen.”
That something was going to happen, anyway. Harder to predict: the fighting for parking spots with television trucks, the T-shirts somebody printed up, that read “I’m not on the client list. Are you?” The media sensation that has overtaken this usually placid 10,000-population town. (Wright has pleaded not guilty to the charges facing her, and her attorney did not return phone calls or emails from The Daily Beast.)
“It’s really irritating,” Racaniello said. “I don’t even want to go to work anymore. That’s all anyone ever talks about.”
If she did it, if Wright really is the “Zumba Madam,” if she really turned a dance studio in tiny Kennebunk into a brothel, it may be her own exhibitionism that brings her down.
Wright bragged often about how much she enjoyed being naked, according to many different, now-defunct Web postings. She reportedly starred in dozens of low-budget (or no-budget) pornographic films, which may or may not have been filmed secretly; videos titled Zumba Whore and Maine Zumba Queen. In one blog post that has since been scrubbed, a woman who matches Wright’s description reads, “I live in a small town in Maine and have my own dance studio, many in my community do not realize that I am an exhibitionist and that I crave sex. I have had sex with many of the married men locally and it is satisfying to know that I am providing them with what they are not getting at home. If the women only knew ... ”
While the woman in the videos appears to be Wright, her presence/participation in the pornos could not be independently confirmed, and her attorney did not respond to calls for comment.
Sources told the York County Coast Star that Wright once accidentally emailed a topless photo of herself to several local mothers, with the subject line “Got any plans this weekend?” before apologizing in a subsequent email, claiming her account had been hacked. A blog titled “Sex in the OC” has compiled several of what it claims to be Wright’s videos, with this breathless explainer: “If anyone knows Alexis Wright from Kennebunk Maine you probably think she’s a sweet, friendly Zumba teacher ... but the sexy MILF and sexy instructor is living a double life. Alexis HOT SEXY BI SEXUAL PORN STAR !!!!! Your can see her doing all kinds of amazing sexual acts with MARRIED OLD MEN, herself & other females..it’s pretty naughty stuff ... She is a true sexual goddess !!!! You never know who people really are sometimes..even respectable member of the community have big sex drives … and need to step out and screw once in a while ... I hope her Zumba clients enjoy her as much as I do !!! If the wives of Kennebunk Maine put on a little love show for their husbands once in a while… maybe… the community wouldn’t need a Zumba studio ! All I can say is WOW Alexis Wright … you are the best !!!!”
Wright has not made any comments about the blog, or those remarks.
But what got Wright in legal trouble wasn’t her online voyeurism, according to the Kennebunk police. It was her brick-and-mortar prostitution parlor, poorly doubling as a Zumba fitness center, police say.
Wright’s building permit, granted in March 2010, describes Pura Vida as a “personal services and dance studio,” according to a Kennebunk Police affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast. The anonymous callers told police those “personal services” were of the intimate variety. Detectives interviewed Toppings Pizza employees, who described the regular arrival of men in business attire, parking around the back of the building. A local DEA agent called Wright on the phone in December. She said she was “Lydia,” police allege, and “agreed during the call to engage in unspecified sexual conduct for money with the agent.”
Then in February, another resident came to police, about an altogether different location. Christopher West was renting a studio at 1 High Street in Kennebunk to Wright, according to the affidavit. Another of his tenants, the owner of a hair salon in the same complex, had seen men coming and going from that location, and said she heard “moaning and groaning” throughout the day. West said he saw a massage table and video camera in the studio, attached to a tripod. He did some digging around on the Internet, a search that “led him to a website called tubekitty.com,” according to the affidavit, where he “viewed a video of Alexis Wright performing a sexual act with herself. The name of the video was ‘Alexis Wright takes dildo from ass to mouth.’”
West told the cops he was sure that video was made in his studio, judging by the walls, the hardwood floors and the window, which he had installed himself. The cops decided they had enough for a warrant.
On Valentine’s Day, police searched Wright’s dance studio, the apartment West owns, and her home in Wells. They found a trove of evidence, according to the affidavit, all of which depicts a woman who not only didn’t do much to hide her salacious dealings—she actually went out of her way to document them.
Police found a detailed ledger, listing not only the so-called Zumba Madam’s client’s names but the sex acts she allegedly performed on them. Even the amount of money she charged. The videos were on the house, apparently—because the clients didn’t know they were being taped.
“The numerous sex acts were video recorded unbeknownst to the males she was having sex with,” the affidavit reads.
Wright may have even paid taxes on the proceeds.
“The electronic data also revealed several online State of Maine tax return forms that Alexis Wright submitted through Turbo Tax,” the affidavit reads. “In review of the ledger and key, it reveals the fees the acts would have generated approximately $150,000.”
Then came another twist: Wright allegedly had a partner in crime. Phone and bank records showed multiple transactions and extensive communication between the alleged madam and a private investigator named Mark W. Strong, Sr., according to the affidavit. The videos apparently showed Wright on Skype, via video chat, with Strong, according to the affidavit. Wright had Strong run the driver’s registration numbers of her clients in motor vehicle records databases. And what’s more, the affidavit asserts, “every sexual act was either videotaped or sent via Skype to Mark W. Strong, Sr.”
In July, the Maine State Police arrested Strong, 56, charging him with misdemeanor “promotion of prostitution.”
Neighboring business owners are a pretty tight-knit group, said one of them, who talked to The Daily Beast on Wednesday on the condition that her name not be used.
“Most of us here are pretty friendly, but she didn’t go the extra mile to interact,” the business owner said. “So we just went and did our own thing. Apparently she did, too.”
Now, the focus in Kennebunk is on Wright’s alleged johns, 105 of them, all meticulously described in the records seized by police, say authorities. After some legal wrangling, a judge ordered that the names of those clients be made public, and the first 21 of them were released Monday.
Those named include a local parks board member in nearby Scarborough, a real estate appraiser in West Kennebunk, a high school hockey coach—who resigned immediately after his name was released this week—a financial adviser, a building contractor, a forester, and a lawyer.
They deserve their outing, Auburn Police Chief Phillip Crowell told The Daily Beast. Crowell has worked extensively to thwart sex traffickers in Maine, and while this case may not fit that bill, he said, the key to fighting the battle is to focus on the demand side of the equation. Naming the johns “should have happened from day one,” Crowell said.
Thanks to Alexis Wright’s copious notes, those accused johns will now have to explain themselves not just to their wives, but to the world.