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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Persecuting Robert Kraft: The Asia Day Spa Case

     Robert Kraft, a Harvard Business School graduate and paper products tycoon worth about $6.6 billion, purchased the NFL's Boston Patriots franchise in 1994 for $176 million. In New England, Mr. Kraft and his team were loved, everywhere else they were not. He was probably the highest profile team owner in the league. What happened to him in 2019 made him known even to people who don't follow professional football.

      On February 22, 2019, the chief of the Jupiter, Florida Police Department held a press conference to announce the results of a 6-month prostitution sting involving a local massage parlor called Asia Day Spa.

     According to the Asia Day Spa's website, the spa offered a "variety of massage modalities" that included services that cost patrons $59 for a half-hour and $79 for a full hour.

     Several female employees of the spa had been charged with prostitution. Twenty-five suspected johns had been charged as well. The men were charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution, a misdemeanor that carried, for the first time offender, up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. That was not big news. That was not the real reason the chief of police had called a press conference.

     The big news, the bombshell, was that Robert Kraft was one of the johns caught up in the vice dragnet. According to the chief of police, the 78-year-old had visited the spa on two occasions in January 2019. He had allegedly been recorded on hidden police surveillance cameras engaging in sexual activity with two Asia Day Spa employees.

     Robert Kraft, when he was in Florida, lived in a double apartment in a luxury waterfront development he owned in Palm Beach. According to the police report he had made the two 35 -minute trips to Jupiter in a chauffeur driven car.

     A spokesperson for Mr. Kraft told reporters that "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity."

     On May 9, 2019, Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx sealed more than 100 hours of Asia Day Spa police video recordings, including footage allegedly depicting Robert Kraft's sexual activities. The judge wrote: "Defendants are guaranteed a fair and impartial trial by jury, and not a trial by community or in the press."

     Judge Marx, on May 20, 2019, decided that prosecutors in the Asia Day Spa case could not use the video recordings of Robert Kraft and the others as evidence at their trials. The judge ruled that the "dragnet" videos violated the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of lawful spa customers.

     On December 28, 2019, Florida's attorney general asked for a three-judge appellate panel to reverse the lower court's exclusion of the Asia Day Spa videos. The attorney general argued that without hidden surveillance cameras prostitution sting operations would be impossible. Without this evidence the state had no case.

     Robert Kraft issued a statement that in part read: "I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard."

     Every year in the United States, undercover vice cops arrest roughly 7, 500 men for patronizing adult prostitutes. They do this at a time when jurisdictions like the state of California have essentially legalized retail theft, the public use of heroin and parole violation. Prosecutors in several big cities do not prosecute people for breaking into cars, robbery, possession of heroin and resisting arrest.
     In September 2020 the prosecutor dropped the charges against Robert Kraft and the other alleged johns.
     Lei Wang, the manager of the Asia Day Spa pleaded guilty in December 2020 to one count of soliciting another to commit prostitution. The 41-year-old was sentenced to one year probation and fined $5,000. Three other female spa employees pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses and received probation. 

     Prosecuting men who patronize prostitutes, in a nation overwhelmed with serious crime, is an outlandish waste of law enforcement resources. Nothing destroys faith in a criminal justice system more than selective law enforcement.  

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