Last October, a small town in Maine was rocked by scandal when it emerged that a local Zumba studio had been doubling up as a brothel. At the center of the story is an insurance agent named Mark Strong (not the bad guy from Sherlock Holmes), who is currently on trial, facing 13 counts relating to the promotion of prostitution. Why are we talking about this case, other than the thrill of mentioning Zumba and Mark Strong the actor in the same story?
Here’s why, from the Associated Press:
Frederick Williams of the Saco Police Department told jurors that he found spreadsheets, tax documents and snapshots from Skype video chats on defendant Mark Strong’s computer and on computer equipment belonging to fitness instructor Alexis Wright, who’s accused of using her Zumba studio as a front for prostitution…
Williams… examined computers and hard drives, and said Strong deleted all his email before Feb. 15, 2012. He also was able to recover pornographic snapshots recovered from Skype video chats between Strong and Wright.
Usually when we talk about spoliation, it’s on a much bigger-scale, but this seems to highlight the fundamental rule of the “delete” button: it is not an absolute. The jury was not told about all the explicit photographs, because Strong’s defense counsel called it a “stretch” to imply that because his client had pornography on his computer, he must have been involved with prostitution. The jury, though, did hear about the file deletion, and that may be an important issue for them.
It’s worth noting, however, that there’s some controversy surrounding the police’s handling of electronic devices taken from Strong’s home. As the Portland Press Herald reports, the police “briefly lost custody of a piece of evidence that’s now central to Strong’s defense, the detective who oversaw the raids testified Friday.” Apparently, Strong was conducting his own investigation of the police department, and there’s suggestions that there was retaliation afoot. It’s a thick plot, and it looks like it’s going to get thicker.