FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) – New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is legally in the clear.
The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office has decided to drop a misdemeanor charge against him after courts blocked their use of video that reportedly shows him paying for massage parlor sex.
But that’s not all. The videos of others accused in the case are also blocked.
“Without these videos we can not move forward with our prosecutions and thus we are ethically compelled to drop the cases against all the defendants,” said Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Palm Beach County court records show that the owner and manager of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa are still facing numerous felony charges related to running a house of prostitution.
The Florida 4th District Court of Appeal found last month that Jupiter police violated the rights of Kraft and the other customers when they secretly installed video cameras inside massage rooms at the spa in early 2019. The court then blocked use of the video footage at trial.
The recordings, which have not been made public, are the only known evidence the men paid for sex.
“The appellate court decision was disappointing and I disagree with the result that threw out the videos for all 25 of our defendants because four other individuals also were recorded. although not continuously observed. They were receiving legitimate non-sexual massages. Two of those individuals out of the four were women and the court said that the police should never have recorded the two women and thus every video must be discarded,” said Aronberg.
Prosecutors decided this week not to appeal that decision to the Florida Supreme Court, saying a loss there could have “broader, negative implications” on future law enforcement investigations beyond the Kraft case.
Kraft’s attorneys have already filed a motion asking that the recordings be destroyed so they could never be released to the public. They said Kraft might be willing to pay the state’s costs if anyone challenges a destruction order.
Kraft, 79, could still face suspension or other punishment from the National Football League.
He and the others were charged in February 2019 in a multicounty investigation of massage parlors that included the secret installation of video cameras in the spas’ lobbies and rooms. Police say the recordings show Kraft and other men engaging in sex acts with women and paying them.
Police say they recorded Kraft, a widower, paying for sex acts at the Orchids of Asia spa on consecutive days in January 2019. Kraft pleaded not guilty but issued a public apology for his actions.
A county court judge originally threw out the recordings, saying the warrant allowing the cameras’ installation didn’t sufficiently protect the privacy of innocent customers who received legal massages. The 4th District agreed, ruling that planting video cameras in private spaces is an “extreme” measure that should only be used when absolutely necessary.
“To permit otherwise would yield unbridled discretion to agents of law enforcement and the government, the antithesis of the constitutional liberty of people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the court ruled.
Prosecutors argued that they needed the recordings to convict the Orchids of Asia owners of felonies, including possible human trafficking — though no one was charged with that crime. The owners must be shown receiving payments from the prostitutes and the only way to get that is to install cameras, prosecutors said.
If convicted, Kraft would have likely received a fine, community service and other sanctions that did not include jail time.
According to Forbes Magazine, Kraft is worth almost $7 billion. He employed several high-priced attorneys to defend him in the case.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)