Judge Shields Video of Patriots Owner at Florida Spa

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Attorneys defending New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft against solicitation-of-prostitution charges convinced a Florida judge to suppress video evidence that police claim shows Kraft engaging in paid sex acts at a day spa.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft walks on the field before the AFC Championship NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots on Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Leonard Hanser ruled Monday evening that the Jupiter Police Department’s collection of undercover video in a day spa prostitution sting was unconstitutional because detectives did little to minimize recording of disrobed patrons who were getting legal massages.

Though he found Jupiter police established probable cause, Hanser wrote that officers ran afoul of Fourth Amendment protections by not establishing written surveillance guidelines that would avoid the recording of partly naked, innocent customers.

“The fact that some totally innocent women and men had their entire lawful time spent in a massage room fully recorded and viewed intermittently by a detective-monitor is unacceptable and results from the lack of sufficient pre-monitoring written guidelines,” the judge wrote.

The months-long investigation yielded misdemeanor solicitation-of-prostitution charges  against Kraft and more than 20 other men who are accused of paying for sexual gratification at the now-shuttered Orchids of Asia massage parlor in Jupiter.

Hua Zhang and Lei Wang are charged with felonies for allegedly deriving proceeds from prostitution at the spa.

Jupiter police had applied for a so-called “sneak-and-peak” warrant for the spa in January after obtaining statements from spa patrons who purportedly admitted to engaging in sexual activity at Orchids of Asia.

Once they secured the warrant, police reported a fake suspicious-package threat as a way to evacuate the premises before slipping in and placing hidden cameras to record the alleged sexual activity, according to Kraft’s attorneys.

Prosecutors argued to the court last month that the search warrant application was “exhaustive” and included “strict guidelines” to limit camera placement to areas where criminal activity was believed to be occurring.

But Hanser found that police still fell short of the minimization requirements for electronic surveillance laid out in federal case law. He wrote that the department improperly allowed video monitoring of disrobed women in the spa even though the pre-warrant investigation had yielded evidence of only male clientele engaged in solicitation.

The judge added that over the five days of secret video-monitoring, police failed to cut off surveillance of certain customers who were keeping their underpants on during their massages, a sign Hanser said should’ve indicated to police that prostitution was not taking place in those instances.

Under the judge’s Monday order, the video of Kraft allegedly getting manually pleasured at the spa cannot be used as evidence against him.

Kraft is represented by Alex Spiro and William Burck from the Quinn Emanuel firm, along with Jack Goldberger as local counsel.

In a parallel criminal case against the alleged spa operators, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx last week granted a motion for a protective order to seal all video evidence collected by police at Orchids of Asia until the fair trial rights of those defendants are not at risk – until a jury is sworn in, or the case is resolved pre-trial.

Meanwhile, a class action lawsuit filed by customers of the spa is pending in Palm Beach court over the allegedly illegal recordings.

Media companies have argued to the court that the Kraft video should be released under Florida’s Public Records Act regardless of whether it is suppressed as evidence.

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