WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Attorneys for Robert Kraft wound down a three-day hearing Wednesday by arguing surveillance video capturing the New England Patriots owner inside a Florida massage spa should be suppressed in his prostitution case because a warrant allowing it should never have been granted.
Although Judge Leonard Hanser has yet to rule on the motion to suppress, on Wednesday he scheduled another hearing to set a trial date. If the case proceeds, Kraft is expected to attend the May 21 hearing, but both sides think there is a good chance the hearing will not be necessary. If Hanser excludes the video evidence, the case against Kraft and the other men charged with solicitation of prostitution could be effectively dead. If he allows the evidence, there is strong incentive for Kraft to reach a deal that seals the evidence. A trial would make the video evidence public.
Kraft’s attorneys said the warrant had no instructions on how to protect innocent people, that detectives didn’t try to use less intrusive investigative methods and that the lead detective was reckless in his statements in the warrant.
“You had people looking at these videos who had no idea what they were doing … none of the criteria made sense,” Kraft attorney William Burck said. “That’s not because they are bad people. They didn’t have instructions. If you have no instructions, the warrant has to go.”
Prosecutors said the warrant was justified, and detectives testified they switched to a different video feed if a customer was getting a legitimate massage.
Jupiter Police Detectives Danielle Hirsch and Troy Jenne, who monitored the surveillance video on tablets in real time, said they typically were able to spot whether customers were there for illicit sex acts or legitimate massages based on whether customers kept their underwear on or took it off upon entering the massage rooms.
If the massages appeared legitimate, the detectives said they minimized the screens capturing that video feed and switched to watching other video feeds from four massage rooms. In several cases where lights in the massage room were turned off, no charges were filed against the patrons even though the detectives strongly suspected sex acts were going on, they said.
Kraft’s attorneys are trying to convince Hanser that Jupiter Detective Andrew Sharp illegally obtained a warrant to install hidden video cameras in the Palm Beach County spa and that Kraft’s constitutional right to privacy was violated.
Kraft was one of almost 300 men who were charged in February with paying for sex acts following police busts at 10 massage parlors that stretched from the Palm Beach area to Orlando.
In one of those cases in a neighboring jurisdiction, a judge on Wednesday ruled video surveillance from police busts at two massage parlors in Martin County can’t be used in prosecuting prostitution charges against alleged patrons. Detectives didn’t follow rules to minimize the surveillance of noncriminal activity in massage rooms at two spas there, Judge Kathleen Roberts said.
The judge’s decision in Martin County is independent of whatever the judge in neighboring Palm Beach County decides in Kraft’s case.
The hidden video surveillance captured innocent customers who were getting legitimate massages at the Martin County spas, Roberts said in her ruling.
“Because of its highly intrusive nature, the requirements to curtail what can be captured must be scrutinized and high levels of responsibility must be met to avoid the intrusion on the activities of the innocent,” the judge wrote. “These strict standards simply weren’t met in this case.”
ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and The Associated Press contributed to this report.