Video of the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, and other men allegedly engaging in sex in a Florida massage parlor will be returned to prosecutors for destruction, a judge ruled on Friday, ending a two-year saga.
The judge in Palm Beach county, Leonard Hanser, agreed with prosecutors and attorneys for Kraft that the recording he ruled inadmissible at trial was not part of the permanent court file.
Prosecutors dropped misdemeanor solicitation charges against Kraft and almost two dozen other men after an appeals court upheld Hanser’s 2019 ruling. He determined that a warrant allowing the installation of hidden cameras inside a massage parlor in Jupiter did not sufficiently protect the privacy of innocent customers receiving legal massages. Prosecutors chose not to challenge the ruling with the state supreme court.
Kraft and the others were charged in February 2019 after an investigation into possible prostitution, stemming from a wider investigation into whether Chinese women were sex trafficked to Florida. It ended without any significant convictions.
Police say they recorded Kraft, a widower, paying for sex acts at the spa on consecutive days in January 2019, including the morning of the AFC Championship game the Patriots won in Kansas City that evening. Two weeks later, the team won a sixth Super Bowl under Kraft’s ownership.
Kraft, 80, pleaded not guilty and attorneys led the fight to get the evidence against him and the other men dismissed. He issued a 2019 public apology, saying he had “hurt and disappointed” his family and Patriots fans.
According to Forbes Magazine, Kraft, who is close to Donald Trump, is worth almost $7bn. He could still receive punishment from the National Football League. The Patriots declined comment. The NFL did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
If Kraft had been convicted, he would have faced a fine, community service and other sanctions that did not include jail time.
The recordings were the only known evidence that Kraft and the other men paid for sex at Orchids of Asia Day Spa. When the recordings were barred from trial, prosecutors had no choice but to dismiss the charges.
Nineteen cases were dropped. Three men went through a pre-trial diversion program, paying more than $5,000 in court costs. One pleaded guilty and paid $323. Another went home to Norway.
The investigation into Orchids of Asia was part of a broader investigation into possible sex trafficking of women to work in massage parlors. Law enforcement leaders said that while they suspected several women had been trafficked, none cooperated with prosecutors and no one was charged with trafficking.
Felony charges against Orchids of Asia management were also dropped after the videos were barred.
Hua Zhang, the Jupiter parlor’s owner, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of soliciting another to commit prostitution and renting space for prostitution. She received a year’s probation and paid $6,600 in costs and fines.
Lei Wang, the spa’s manager, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of soliciting another to commit prostitution and received a year’s probation. She paid a $5,000 fine.