WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A Boston billionaire, charged in a prostitution sting out of Palm Beach County, wants video evidence of his alleged solicitation acts thrown out. His high-powered legal team is doing everything they can to make that happen.
On Wednesday, Robert Kraft’s defense attorneys filed a 92-page motion accusing the Jupiter Police Dept., among other things, of obtaining a ‘sneak-and-peek’ search warrant illegally.
First, defense counsel argues while sneak-and-peek warrants are lawful in Florida, prostitution is not on the list of crimes which allow for this type of investigative technique.
“Florida’s Legislature, in 2000, specifically removed prostitution from the enumerated crimes eligible for such surveillance,” defense wrote in their argument.
Contact 5 checked Florida Statue 934.07, the law which authorizes court-ordered intercepts, and is referenced by Kraft’s attorney in the lengthy motion.
Crimes like murder, theft, money laundering, human trafficking and violating the RICO Act are included in a list of offenses which authorize law enforcement interception, like wiretaps. Prostitution-related crimes are not included.
“The Martin County investigation focused on alleged human trafficking and money laundering, however, the JPD’s investigation was focused solely on prostitution allegedly occurring at Asian massage parlors in strip malls,” defense attorney wrote in the motion.
To help illustrate their argument, defense counsel attached the search warrant affidavit and order granting the search as exhibits in their motion.
The records had not yet been released to the public, despite numerous records request to both the State Attorney’s Office and Jupiter Police Department.
[Editor's note: scroll down to the end of this article to read the most recent court filing.]
Both records show Jupiter detectives were investigating the felony crime of deriving benefits from the proceeds of prostitution. No other crimes are listed in the warrant.
As a result, Kraft’s legal team says the billionaire’s fourth amendments for unlawful search and seizure were violated. Kraft has pleaded not guilty to both solicitation counts, and refused a deferred prosecution agreement which would have gotten the charges dropped in exchange for admitting he could have been found guilty by a jury.
“I think the courts are going to wrestle with whether or not what the police did was lawful,” said Gregory Salnick, a former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney in West Palm Beach. “If the court deems there was a fourth amendment violation…then the courts will suppress the evidence. They will exclude the evidence, and the purpose of excluding evidence really is to deter police misconduct.”
UPDATE: Robert Kraft's attorneys argue, while sneak and peek warrants are lawful in Florida, prostitution isn't listed as a qualifying crime for this type of surveillance. https://t.co/1ghWVsXLga @WPTV @WPTVContact5 #Contact5— Merris Badcock (@MerrisBadcock) April 3, 2019
In the motion, Kraft’s attorney claim the use of sneak-and-peek warrants “seems to be virtually unheard of in Florida; we can find no reported decision that has ever confronted, much less upheld, any such warrant.”
However, Contact 5 uncovered video evidence from a previous sneak-and-peek warrant out of South Florida massage parlor a few years ago. According to law enforcement sources, the secretly captured, graphic surveillance video resulted in successful prosecutions and shut down the spa.
Contact 5 also found nearly 300 federal sneak-and-peek warrants were executed in Florida from October 2016 to September 2017, according to the most recent data available from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
According to Kraft’s attorneys, Judge Howard Coates signed off on the sneak-and-peek warrant the same day Detective Andrew Sharp applied for it, giving police the go-ahead to plant hidden cameras in ceiling tiles of the now infamous Orchids of Asia Day Spa.
On January 18th, Kraft’s attorneys say Jupiter police faked a “suspicious package” incident inside the business, to get the cameras inside, and never provided copies of the search warrant to the spa’s owners.
According to state law, to get a ‘sneak-and-peek’ warrant detectives must exhaust all other investigative techniques first, as long as the methods do not jeopardize the case or put an officer in harm’s way.
In the warrant, Jupiter detectives choose not to send in an undercover officer, citing ethical concerns for the agency and investigation. However, Kraft’s attorneys cited a case out of Palm Beach County in 2014, which resulted in successful prosecutions
Furthermore, Kraft’s attorneys argue both the traffic stop which identified Kraft and the state’s Health Department inspection were also unlawful.
“From reading the defense’s motion, clearly it is persuasive,” said Salnick. “Whether or not it is vetted and those things hold up to be true, I cannot say.”
Contact 5 reached out to Kraft’s attorneys and the Jupiter Police Dept., but neither party has replied to our requests for comment.
Kraft’s legal team includes William Burck, an attorney out of Washington D.C. who once represented former President George W. Bush; West Palm Beach attorney Jack Goldberger who will served as the attorney of record; and New York City-based attorney Alex Spiro, a Harvard law school graduate, known for representing New York City basketball players.
Kraft's next court date on April 12 was canceled citing an "out of session" conflict, according to his case file. So far, no other court dates have been set.
Follow Contact 5’s Merris Badcock on Twitter for the newest information about the case.