Robert Kraft’s case would be far more alarming, if he weren’t a billionaire

Mike Florio

It recently has become unfashionable to be extremely wealthy, due apparently to a stew of political attitudes and ideas that see fairly-and-squarely-accumulated wealth as a target for quick-and-easy redistribution. But billionaires still have rights, even if our new resent-the-rich vibe also includes making faces at legal arguments made by lawyers the rich can afford.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft currently faces a legal problem that, but for his social and financial status, would be regarded by most reasonable people as deeply troubling. Regardless of whether he did or didn’t solicit prostitution prior to receiving massages on back-to-back days in January, the government saw fit to hide cameras in extremely private areas for the purposes of catching him in the act of something that may not have been solicited in advance.

Karol Marowicz of the New York Post takes a closer look at the dynamics that resulted in the “sneak-and-peek” surveillance operation, following by a plead-guilty-or-we’ll-release-the-video strategy that in any other context would amount to extortion. But for trumped-up at best and falsified at worst concerns regarding human trafficking, it would have been difficult if not impossible to secure a search warrant. Although prosecutors have since admitted that don’t actually have evidence of human trafficking in Kraft’s case, the video still exists and the charges still stand.

As explained over the weekend by Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, authorities in Florida have used this tactic in the past. But they’ve rarely if ever taken on someone with the resources and the incentive to fight the charges tooth and nail. Kraft, who needs an exoneration in order to have any shot at not being suspended by the NFL (even with exoneration, a suspension may be inevitable), has launched the kind of defense that rarely happens when charges are filed and a guilty plea is quickly and quietly harvested.

Freeman points out that, on two prior occasions (in 2007 and 2014), law-enforcement officials installed cameras in Boca Raton massage parlors. Only one defendant filed a challenge to the “sneak-and-peek” warrant, and prosecutors dropped the charges against that person before there ever was even a hearing on the issue.

In this case, prosecutors can’t cut and run, due to the intense public scrutiny that surely would follow. Instead, they need to keep pushing for some sort of deal, with the leverage being the ever-present threat of public humiliation from the release of a video that, given the lack of evidence of human trafficking, arguably never should have been created.

Even with the video, the prosecutions case lacks any proof of actual solicitation. The absence of such evidence continues to be the biggest factual flaw in Kraft’s case, especially if the alleged prostitute refuses to testify that money was promised for sex.

Regardless, the fact that Kraft is rich, famous, and powerful shouldn’t cloud the fact that Florida has a habit of invading privacy and harvesting guilty pleas before ever being held accountable. Although Kraft surely isn’t doing this to end the practice of “sneak-and-peek” surveillance in Florida, the fight to defend himself has an incidental benefit to anyone whose privacy rights may be violated in the future — especially for those who were simply getting a massage but who ended up having the entire incident viewed and scrutinized by police.