New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s lawyers on Thursday blasted the police for secretly recording him in a prostitution sting, saying they resorted to the most “indiscriminate spying conceivable by law enforcement.”
Kraft’s high-powered legal team wants to block prosecutors from using those videos, which purportedly show him involved in sex acts at a massage parlor in Jupiter. The videos are central to efforts to prosecute him on two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution.
He is one of the 25 men charged after the investigation at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, with hundreds more ensnared in an investigation across the state.
“Florida resorted to the most drastic, invasive, indiscriminate spying conceivable by law enforcement — taking continuous video recordings of private massages in which customers would be stripping naked as a matter of course — in order to prosecute what are at most (according to Florida’s own allegations) misdemeanor offenses,” wrote attorneys Jack Goldberger of West Palm Beach, William Burck of Washington, D.C., and Alex Spiro of New York.
Kraft, a 77-year-old billionaire who lives in Massachusetts and has a home in Palm Beach, on Tuesday pleaded not guilty and requested a trial. He has declined a plea offer that would have resulted in the charges going away if he admitted that he would have been found guilty by a jury.
In Thursday’s court filing, Kraft’s lawyers asked the judge to order the videos can’t be used, “because we do not live in a police state and our government answers to the rule of law.”
Palm Beach County prosecutors declined to comment Thursday about Kraft’s new arguments, citing a policy of not discussing pending cases outside of court.
Kraft’s lawyers claim the cops violated his Constitutional rights against “unreasonable search and seizure” by planting video cameras at the massage parlor through a court-approved warrant.
Kraft’s legal team says these so-called “sneak-and-peek” search warrants were unlawful because the use of the cameras wasn’t necessary for a “run-of-the-mill suspicion of solicitation” investigation.
The lawyers charge that the cops should have first used “less invasive investigatory techniques” — such as interviewing the people who worked at the massage parlor — given the low-level prostitution offenses.
“By no stretch of the imagination did law enforcement need to resort to secret, indiscriminate, continuous videotaping of private massage parlors in order to build a solicitation case around low-level, consensual sex acts,” the lawyers wrote, putting the emphasis on the word “need.”
The pleading also accused Jupiter police of making unlawful traffic stops of cars carrying Kraft and the other men after their visits to the Jupiter massage parlor.
After Kraft left Orchids on the afternoon of Jan. 19, his chauffeur-driven Bentley was pulled over, and Kraft’s identity was confirmed when he presented his Massachusetts drivers license, court records show. According to police, Kraft returned to the business the next morning, for another sexual encounter, before flying to Kansas City for the AFC Championship game.
They also attacked the warrants for videotaping inside the massage parlors as a violation of Florida law that forbids such an invasive technique for “mundane” offenses.
And they pointed out that because the video cameras never stopped rolling, the cops violated the privacy of people getting “lawful massages” — “customers who engaged in no sexual acitvity whatsoever.”
Moreover, the Kraft defense took aim at the reason why law enforcement said the investigation was needed, namely to root out an expansive human trafficking ring stretching to China and involving allegations of forced labor at the massage parlors. But there have been no human trafficking charges filed in connection with the case.
Kraft’s lawyers slammed police for having “peddled these falsehoods” to support the warrant for the videotaping.
“That law enforcement has since backed away — wisely — from any fiction that this case involved human trafficking by no means excuses its earlier insinuations,” the Kraft filing reads.
But the law enforcement agencies involved continue to say that the investigation isn’t over. The Martin County Sheriff’s Office, which tipped off Jupiter police, is still trying to get some massage parlor workers to testify about conditions they allegedly endured at several locations.
This week, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, told USA Today, “this has the makings of a classic, unadulterated sex trafficking ring. Period.”
Along with Kraft’s fight to keep the videos out of his case, the Super Bowl winner is also battling to prevent the videos from ever being released to the public.
Last week and again Thursday, attorneys for Kraft asked the court to block the release of the videos on the grounds that the evidence was “illegally obtained.” Kraft’s side also said he can’t get a fair trial unless the court minimizes “the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity.”
A coalition of media outlets is trying to persuade the courts not to seal the videos, or any other evidence “in this case of significant concern.”
Kraft’s lawyers on Thursday wrote, “surely, the press … has no legitimate right to possess such material.”
A hearing when motions could be addressed in the case is set for April 9.
Earlier Thursday, the manager of the now-closed Orchids of Asia Day Spa could be released from jail as soon as Friday, her attorney said.
Lei Wang, 39, appeared upset at times during a hearing concerning her bond on one felony and 28 misdemeanor counts based on prostitution allegations.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx agreed to lower Wang’s bond from $256,000 to $75,000, noting the original bond set after her Feb. 21 arrest was too high for the charges.
“Now my client can go home,” defense attorney Paul Petruzzi said.