It was the happy ending heard ’round the world.
When New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft visited Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, two Chinese women gave him a massage. According to the billionaire’s arrest report, the women, aged 45 and 58, followed up with a hand job, which the Jupiter Police tell us is “slang for a sexual act involving the manual manipulation of the male genitals.” When it was over, the 77-year-old Kraft handed them a hundred-dollar bill and gave them hugs before walking out to the parking lot, where he climbed into the passenger side of his white Bentley and was driven away.
Kraft returned the next day for another go-round. He, of course, didn’t know on either of his visits that the massages were being watched in real time by police who’d surreptitiously placed cameras in the spa’s massage rooms. Kraft was one of 25 men snared in the investigation and charged with misdemeanor prostitution crimes.
The involvement of the Super Bowl winner put the case on media blast nationally and globally. But when State Attorney Dave Aronberg conducted a news conference about the case, he downplayed Kraft and all the other men who’d been criminally charged, insisting this wasn’t about “lonely old men or victimless crimes.”
Instead, Aronberg said, it was about human trafficking, an “evil in our midst.”
“It’s up to all of us to be the eyes and ears against human trafficking,” Aronberg told the media. “If you see something, say something. That’s the good that will come out of this.”
But for former police detective John Rode, founder of the nonprofit Global Children’s Rescue, which helps save victims of human trafficking, there’s something about the investigation that doesn’t sit well. He questions why police officers, after installing cameras, watched the women committing dozens of sex acts over five days and did nothing to stop them. If these women were truly forced into sexual slavery, as police allegedly suspected, it would be tantamount to watching repeated rapes in order to bust the customers on misdemeanor charges.
“The number one concern should have been to rescue the victims,” Rode says. “How could they look at this case as these women being victims and then watch the victims perform sex with the customers? It’s like letting a robbery occur and not doing anything.”
No charges of human trafficking at the spa have resulted from the investigation. Veteran defense attorney Jamie Benjamin says if the real reason for the investigation was human trafficking, the placement of cameras in the massage rooms is suspect. He notes investigators had already established prostitution was happening inside the spa; witnessing the actual acts would not help build a trafficking case. For that, they should have placed the cameras in other areas of the spa to catch interaction between the women and alleged captors and bosses. It’s another indication the Jupiter investigation might have really been about “lonely old men and victimless crimes” all along, Benjamin says.
“They are going to say that’s how you build a case,” Benjamin says of the video recording. “But you’re utilizing investigative techniques and hiding the real reason you’re doing it. If you’re honest with the courts, those courts may not have given them the warrants to get their ‘sneak-and-peeks.'”
Benjamin is referring to the sneak-and-peek warrant used in the Orchids of Asia case, which allowed investigators to install the cameras secretly in the first place (using a fabricated bomb scare at the business to get inside). Use of these warrants became widely available to law enforcement as a result of the Patriot Act (an irony perhaps not lost on Kraft); they were meant to be used in terrorism cases. They are extremely rare in Asian-spa investigations.
Stuart attorney Richard Kibbey, who represents several customers involved in both the Orchids of Asia case and other related Asian-spa busts in Martin County, contends in an emergency petition filed against the Jupiter Police Department that the sneak-and-peek warrants are unlawful and a “shocking affront to the personal privacy” of the customers, as well an “unprecedented abuse of police powers.” His complaint seeks to block public release of the video.
Kibbey contends that none of the customers had any knowledge of human trafficking and that no evidence has yet come to light in the case demonstrating “anything other than consensual sex acts between two adults.” He says he believes police used a false human-trafficking pretext to wrongfully obtain the warrant, which has yet to be unsealed, so they could arrest customers.
“If the basis for the warrant was human trafficking… the warrant is suspect and will ultimately be struck down upon further review by the courts,” Kibbey says.
Benjamin notes no human-trafficking arrests were made in an ongoing Asian-spa case that shut down 13 spas and saw 16 arrests from Tallahassee to Naples. “The prosecutor announced there was no evidence of human trafficking,” says Benjamin, who represents the lead defendant in that case. “[Thirteen] places, from Tallahassee to Naples, and they didn’t find one woman who said [she was] held against [her] will or trafficked.”
He claims the vast majority of the women do the work for the money.
“Almost all of them, when they go through interrogations, say, ‘I’m here to make money,'” Benjamin says. “‘It’s more money than I’ve made in five years in China, and I’m doing it for economic benefit.’ It’s not human trafficking; it’s an economic boon.”
However, there have been horror stories of mistreatment in the massive multibillion-dollar Asian-spa industry. The business is a tough one. Women live spare lives while in America, often sleeping on the massage tables. Some clearly have been exploited, but it’s equally evident that many work in the massage parlors by choice, making far more money there than they could in their home countries or in menial jobs here. This clearly presents a challenge for investigators.
In the Kraft case, one thing is certain: Law enforcement’s use of the sneak-and-peek warrants will be heavily challenged in court. Kibbey promises an “intense legal argument,” and Kraft has pleaded not guilty. This past Wednesday, the billionaire hired prominent Republican attorney Bill Burck to represent him in the case, which likely means more legal fireworks.
“We almost never see these cases go to court,” Rode says. “Kraft obviously has the money to go to trial. It will be interesting to see if that happens.”
Kraft is scheduled to be arraigned March 27.