Most Florida second-degree misdemeanors don’t have dayslong pretrial hearings with top-line attorneys and 30 subpoenaed witnesses, including an expert on police procedures — but the State of Florida vs. Robert Kraft is no typical case.
The New England Patriots owner’s high-profile attorneys went toe-to-toe Friday with some of Palm Beach County’s best, most-experienced prosecutors as they tried to persuade a judge to throw out secretly recorded video that police say shows Kraft paying for sex acts at a massage parlor. His attorneys want the videos sealed and never seen by the public. After six hours in court Friday, they are nowhere near finishing their presentation. It will resume Tuesday.
Kraft’s attorney Alex Spiro questioned lead detective Andrew Sharp for nearly the entire session. They went line-by-line through the Jupiter detective’s application for the search warrant that allowed him to surreptitiously install cameras in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa’s ceiling. They went over the minutia of his investigation, sometimes repetitively, sometimes humorously.
Spiro, who also represents Jay-Z, Mick Jagger and other celebrities in various matters, even pointed out that while Orchids of Asia advertised on websites catering to prostitution aficionados, it also offered Groupon and Early Bird specials and was even once promoted on the business section of the Town of Jupiter’s website.
The defense is trying to convince Judge Leonard Hanser that Sharp’s installation of the cameras was an illegal search and that Kraft’s constitutional right to privacy was violated.
The 77-year-old Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, and 24 other men were charged in February with misdemeanor solicitation for allegedly paying for sex there over a January weekend. The female owner and three employees are charged with felonies and misdemeanors. Kraft, who was not in court Friday, has pleaded not guilty to paying for sex twice but has also publicly apologized for his behavior.
The prosecutors went straight at Kraft’s defense. Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos told Hanser that Kraft’s attorneys first must show that Sharp’s warrant to install the cameras was illegal before they can argue his rights were violated.
They also must show that Kraft “had a legally recognized right to privacy when he was in the spa paying for sex from the prostitute,” Kridos said.
Kraft attorney William Burck, who represented former White House Counsel Don McGahn during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, disagreed, telling Hanser there’s substantial case law establishing a legal expectation of privacy in such businesses. Kraft, like the other men charged, was not a specific target but happened to visit the spa during the operation.
During Spiro’s back-and-forth with Sharp, they discussed how the investigation began in October when the detective got a tip from neighboring Martin County, which was conducting its own massage parlor investigation. He was told Orchids of Asia might also be a prostitution front. Sharp said he put the spa under surveillance in November and realized the customers were almost exclusively men, including a group of eight who showed up on a golf cart and walked inside.
The group re-emerged and one man threw up his arms as if to signal a touchdown in football before re-entering.
“At that point, I understood this was not just a regular massage parlor but one that was an illicit massage business,” he said. Sharp said his team began pulling trash from the spa’s outdoor bin that showed evidence of sexual activity. He also sent in a female health inspector, who told him she believed women were living in the spa.
By January, Sharp received a warrant to install hidden cameras inside. He sneaked them in by planting a fake bomb outside the spa after the other stores in the strip mall had closed and telling the women they needed to wait outside.
He said his goal was to prove that the spa owners were deriving income from prostitution, a felony, and shut them down. Spiro argued that installing the cameras was overkill, and that the same results could have been obtained by sending in an undercover officer to see if the women offered sex for money. Sharp said such stings often fail, and he believed the cameras were a better bet.
At one point, Spiro handed a wad of cash to Burck. In court documents justifying Kraft’s charges, Sharp described him giving the masseuse a $100 bill and other bills after a sex act. Spiro asked Sharp if he could tell how much he had given Burck. Sharp could only distinguish a $10 bill.
“It’s not a lot of money, trust me,” Spiro said.
“Surprisingly,” Sharp shot back.