Florida prosecutors intend to release video in Robert Kraft case, despite challenges

 bostonglobe.com  4/17/2019 4:04:00 PM   John R. Ellement

Florida prosecutors said Wednesday they would release police surveillance videos of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and 24 other men allegedly paying for sex — through the cases of two women accused of owning and managing the alleged house of prostitution the men visited.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office said in court papers it is obligated under Florida law to provide the video to the public and the media now and cannot wait for a judge to decide whether it should be kept under seal while Lei Wang is prosecuted as the alleged manager of the Orchids of Asia Spa in Jupiter, Fla.

Wang allegedly managed the spa, and Hua Zhang has been identified by authorities as the owner of the spa. Both women have pleaded not guilty to numerous charges, including maintaining a house of prostitution.

Like Kraft, Wang’s attorney has asked a judge to bar the release of the videos while her criminal case is pending. A hearing on her request is set for May 17.

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Prosecutors said in court papers they can’t wait until then.

Prosecutors, “as the custodian of the records, cannot delay the release of records to allow a person to raise a constitutional challenge to the release of the documents,’’ Aronberg’s office wrote Wednesday. “The Public Records Act does not allow a custodian to delay the production of records to allow the resolution of a constitutional challenge to the release of the documents.”

Kraft, 77, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution during separate visits to the spa on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20. Kraft has denied engaging in illegal activity, pleaded not guilty, and requested a jury trial.

One of Kraft’s attorneys last week described the recording of Kraft’s actions in the spa as “pornography.”

Kraft and 14 other men charged in the case have asked a judge to issue a protective order blocking the public release of the videos, a request opposed by the Globe and a coalition of other media outlets. That request is still pending before Judge Leonard Hanser.

Prosecutors have not taken a stance in that case.

However, prosecutors are now shifting the issue to the prosecution of Wang, who allegedly engaged in sexual acts with Kraft on Jan. 20 that were videotaped by Jupiter police, who had secretly installed a surveillance camera while investigating alleged human trafficking in the spa.

The release of the videos must also be made in the case of Zhang, the purported owner of the spa, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they would move forward with releasing the pixelated videos unless told not to do so by a judge.

During last week’s hearing before Hanser, Kraft’s defense attorney William Burck questioned the need to release the images, especially since Jupiter police affidavits already made public provided a detailed account of what transpired between Kraft and women on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.

“What is the reason the public needs to see the video itself?” Burck asked Hanser.

Burck answered his own question, telling Hanser, “The only possible reason to release it is to get eyeballs and clicks” on media websites from people seeking to watch individuals “engaging potentially in sexual conduct.”

It is basically pornography, your honor,” Burck said of the video.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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