Reason Roundup

Florida Drops Prostitution Case Against Robert Kraft, Still Pursues Charges Against the Women He Paid

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Kraft gets off while Orchids of Asia workers still face 25 prostitution charges each. After nearly two years, Florida prosecutors are finally giving up on prosecuting New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for twice paying an adult woman in Palm Beach County for a hand job. The state had little choice, since a court said the video evidence of this sex act was illegally obtained.

Florida cops had pretended to be hunting a "human trafficking" ring in order to get a warrant for the secret surveillance cameras—which ultimately showed no signs of forced work, forced sex, child labor, or illegal immigration. What they caught was licensed, adult, immigrant masseuses sometimes providing manual sexual stimulation at the end of a client's massage.

But authorities went forward with the "trafficking" lie anyway, holding a press conference that garnered a huge amount of media coverage. Readers and viewers across the country were told that an international "sex trafficking ring" forced "girls" to have unprotected sex with 1,000 men a year and did not let them leave. Major outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, and NPR relayed the government's account.

Palm Beach District Attorney Dave Aronberg declared that this was "modern day slavery" and that the women providing sex acts to Kraft and company were "trafficking victims." This wasn't a story "about lonely old men and victimless crimes," Aronberg said; it was "about forcing women into our country for forced labor and sex." Another local sheriff called the prostitution stings "a rescue operation."

Nothing then, or since, has shown any of this to be the case.

And now, those "rescued" women may be the only ones still in legal trouble.

On Thursday, state prosecutors announced that they had dropped the two "soliciting another to commit prostitution" charges against Robert Kraft. The announcement comes after two Florida courts ruled that the video evidence of his alleged crime was not admissible. The court also ruled it off-limits in cases against the other men charged with soliciting prostitution at Orchids of Asia and the massage parlor workers who were facing prostitution-related felonies. Solicitation cases against at least 13 other men charged at the same time as Kraft are now listed as closed.

The video footage was all cops had on Kraft and most of the other men arrested for soliciting. But when it comes to the women involved, police do have other potential evidence, since they spent months doing things like rooting through their trash cans (with the help of a Homeland Security agent), following them around, and sending in undercover agents.

Hua Zhang, the 59-year-old owner of Orchids of Asia owner, and 41-year-old Lei Wang—one of two women whom Kraft allegedly patronized—were charged with 22 counts apiece of "soliciting another to commit prostitution," as well as one count each of maintaining a house of prostitution, deriving support from proceeds of prostitution, and renting space to be used for prostitution. The other woman accused of servicing Kraft, 60-year-old Shen Mingbi, was charged with one count of deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution and 10 counts of soliciting another to commit prostitution.

Aronberg did not respond to Reason's request for more information on what would become of the charges against these women.

But cases against all three are still listed as open in Palm Beach County court records, while Kraft's is now listed as closed. And a status check in the Zhang and Wang cases is scheduled for December 2, 2020.

On August 31—more than a year and a half after she was first charged—Zhang was granted permission to seek employment again.

Unlike the men arrested for solicitation, Zhang and Wang also had many of their assets seized.

No one in this case was ever charged with human trafficking. No victims were ever produced. Yet Zhang and Wang have had to spend the past 19 months fighting for their freedom, their reputations, their property, and their livelihoods, and it looks like they'll have to continue fighting it.

All for touching parts of men that the state says they can't touch for money—and while the men that paid to be touched go free.

(This is not to say that these men faced no consequences. They've had to fight criminal charges, fight the release of the surveillance video, and watch as the papers publish their names as people who patronize "sex slaves." Nor should they should be punished. But the fact that they aren't makes the continued prosecution of the women all the more egregious.)

People have been aghast at how these massage-parlor stings played out. But police departments and prosecutors' offices around the country have been engaging in similar charades, generally with the help of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations agents. Here are a few other examples I've covered recently:

I went on Holly Randall's latest podcast to talk about many of these issues. Check that out here:


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