By Jack Ryan
Prosecutors charging New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with twice buying sex from massage parlor prostitutes will attempt to save their case today by arguing to an appeals court that his rights weren’t violated when police secretly video-recorded him in the act.
Prosecutors will tell the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal during an online hearing that a county judge erred when he invalidated the January 2019 search warrant allowing police to install secret cameras at Orchids of Asia spa as part of an alleged sex trafficking investigation.
The judge said the warrant didn’t sufficiently protect the privacy of innocent customers who received legal massages, and he barred the videos’ use at trial as well as testimony about what they showed. If the ruling stands, it will deal a fatal blow to the prosecution’s case.
“Mr. Kraft’s guilt is a virtual certainty” and he has no right to benefit from any possible mistakes police made involving innocent customers, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey DeSousa wrote in court documents.
Kraft’s attorneys vehemently disagreed, arguing that if the three-justice panel allows the videos’ use, “civil liberties cherished in Florida and beyond” will be endangered.
“If the state wins this appeal, then everyone loses, not just the accused,” attorney Frank Shepherd wrote. “Government could run roughshod over privacy and constitutional rights while evading scrutiny.”
The Jupiter police recordings led to misdemeanor charges against Kraft and two dozen other alleged Orchids of Asia customers. The spa owners and some employees are charged with prostitution-related felonies.
Most cases are in limbo while the appeals are heard. If prosecutors can’t use the videos, they would almost certainly dismiss any misdemeanor charges awaiting trial. Some defendants took plea deals but Kraft refused. The felony cases could proceed, as those have other evidence besides the videos.
Kraft, a 79-year-old widower and part-time Palm Beach resident, has pleaded not guilty but issued a public apology. He faces a possible one-year jail sentence if convicted, but would likely receive a fine, community service and other sanctions. Kraft, whom Forbes Magazine ranks as the 82nd richest American with a worth of almost $7 billion, is employing several high-priced attorneys to fight the charges.