Massage parlor footage of Patriots owner suppressed in Florida case

By Alex Dobuzinskis
FILE PHOTO: NFL Football - Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams - Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. - February 3, 2019. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft gives a speech as he celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LIII. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - Hidden-camera footage of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at a Florida massage parlor cannot be used as evidence in his trial on charges of soliciting prostitution, a judge ruled on Monday in a victory for the billionaire.

Attorneys for the owner of the reigning Super Bowl champions had asked the Florida judge to suppress the video, calling it governmental overreach from an illegally obtained search warrant.

The Palm Beach County judge focused his ruling on what he deemed a lack of "minimization" procedures to limit the invasion of privacy of the massage parlor's clients.

"The court finds that the search warrant does not contain required minimization guidelines, and that minimization techniques employed in this case did not satisfy constitutional requirements," Judge Leonard Hanser wrote in the 12-page ruling.

The video could have been key evidence against Kraft, who faces two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution on Jan. 19 and 20 at Orchids of Asia Spa in Jupiter, Florida, along with some two dozen other men.

The other defendants also could benefit from the suppression of the video footage.

Michael Edmondson, a spokesman for the state attorney for Palm Beach County, said in an email his office was reviewing the order. He did not immediately say if an appeal was planned.


POLICE STOP

Hanser also suppressed evidence from a police stop of Kraft's chauffeured car on Jan. 19, after he left the massage parlor. Police stopped the car to confirm the identity of the person they captured on video at the parlor minutes earlier, Hanser wrote.

"Defendant's identity was not known to law enforcement until he was stopped," Hanser wrote. "Therefore, all information obtained through the stop is suppressed as the fruit of an unlawful search."

Prosecutors at a hearing last month said Kraft, 77, could not have expected privacy at the parlor because it was a business establishment.

Also last month, Hanser temporarily blocked prosecutors from releasing the video footage to media outlets, which had requested copies under the state's open records law.

Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots since 1994, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor criminal counts against him. He has issued a public apology for his actions.

The warrant for the hidden cameras, Kraft's lawyers claimed, was secured under false pretenses because police cited human trafficking as a potential crime in their application. Prosecutors have since acknowledged the investigation yielded no evidence of trafficking.


(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)