Florida state prosecutors on Thursday dropped charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and other men accused of soliciting prostitution at a Jupiter spa, after the court ruled key surveillance videos could not be used in the case.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg said during a virtual press conference that without surveillance video of the men -- including Kraft -- allegedly purchasing sex at the Orchids of Asia spa, there was not enough evidence to continue with the case.
"Without these videos, we cannot move forward with our prosecutions and thus we are ethically compelled to drop the cases against all the defendants," Aronberg said.
The move comes days after prosecutors lost a ruling on evidence in the case and said they wouldn't appeal it, which made it likely that charges against Kraft and others in the Orchids of Asia case would be dropped.
Aronberg called the appellate court's decision to ban the surveillance videos "disappointing" but said he would respect the decision. The recordings, which have not been made public, are the only known evidence that the men might have paid for sex.
Aronberg, however, stood by his decision to file the cases, calling the spa a "notorious brothel in a family shopping center right next to a game room that attracted children" where "rich guys from a local country club lined up to receive sex acts throughout the day and until the place closed around midnight."
He said that while human trafficking at the spa could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, he said there was evidence that it occurred, including workers living on premises and not being allowed to leave without supervision from a spa manager.
Felony cases against the owner and a manager of the spa were still pending, Aronberg said, adding there was enough evidence to continue pursing charges against them.
Orchids of Asia is the day spa in Jupiter, Florida, where Kraft was allegedly seen on surveillance video soliciting prostitution. Kraft has denied the allegations in the two misdemeanor charges filed against him.
Earlier Thursday, documents filed in the court docket in Palm Beach County showed two Nolle Prosse notices, which are filed when prosecutors are not willing to move forward with a prosecution, NBC News reported.
The Florida Attorney General's Office said Monday that prosecutors had decided that, if they challenged last month's Florida 4th District Court of Appeal decision to the state Supreme Court and lost, it could have "broader, negative implications" on future law enforcement investigations.
The 4th District ruling found that Jupiter police violated the rights of Kraft and the others when they secretly installed video cameras inside massage rooms at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in early 2019 and banned their use at trial.
"Based on that analysis and after consulting with the prosecuting state attorney's office, the decision was made not to seek further discretionary review," attorney general spokeswoman Kylie Mason said in an email to The Associated Press at the time.
Kraft's attorneys declined comment on Monday's decision, but filed a motion that day asking that the recordings be destroyed so they could never be released to the public. They said Kraft might be willing to pay the state's costs if anyone challenges a destruction order.
"Only by ordering the State to destroy the Videos and to comply with interim measures securing them can the Court guard against the palpable risk of further leak or misuse and correspondingly vindicate the constitutional principles and rights that are at stake in this case," Kraft attorney Frank Shepherd wrote.
Kraft, 79, and others were charged in February 2019 in a multicounty investigation of massage parlors that included the secret installation of video cameras in the spas' lobbies and rooms. Police say the recordings show Kraft and other men engaging in sex acts with women and paying them.
Police say they recorded Kraft, a widower, paying for sex acts at the Orchids of Asia spa on consecutive days in January 2019. Kraft pleaded not guilty but issued a public apology for his actions.
A county court judge originally threw out the recordings, saying the warrant allowing the cameras' installation didn't sufficiently protect the privacy of innocent customers who received legal massages. The 4th District agreed, ruling last month that planting video cameras in private spaces is an "extreme" measure that should only be used when absolutely necessary.
"To permit otherwise would yield unbridled discretion to agents of law enforcement and the government, the antithesis of the constitutional liberty of people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures," the court ruled.
Prosecutors argued that they needed the recordings to convict the Orchids of Asia owners of felonies, including possible human trafficking — though no one was charged with that crime. The owners must be shown receiving payments from the prostitutes and the only way to get that is to install cameras, prosecutors said.
If convicted, Kraft would have likely received a fine, community service and other sanctions that did not include jail time.
According to Forbes Magazine, Kraft is worth almost $7 billion. He employed several high-priced attorneys to defend him in the case. Even if the charges are dropped, Kraft could still face a suspension or other punishment from the National Football League.