Palm Beach County prosecutors conceded today in court that there is no evidence of human trafficking in the case at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa that ensnared billionaire New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The admission represented a change in law enforcement’s rhetoric from when the charges were first announced, when both police and prosecutors said human trafficking was an element in the case. At the press conference announcing that prosecutors would pursue the case against Kraft—two counts of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution—Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg called human trafficking “evil in our midst.”
This change isn’t a huge surprise. As Hallie Lieberman wrote for Deadspin a few days after the press conference, the scale of the sex trafficking problem is often overstated by police seeking to prosecute sex workers and johns. As she wrote: “Such operations often end with police finding few or no victims and arresting consensual sex workers instead.”
Kraft’s lawyers are trying to use that shift to bolster their arguments against releasing the tape of his alleged crimes on two fronts: keeping it out of evidence in the courtroom and keeping it from being released publicly under Florida’s sunshine law.
As the parties discussed today whether masseuses who worked at the spa were considered victims in front of Palm Beach County Judge Leonard Hanser, prosecutor Greg Kridos spoke up to clarify some details about the case. “There is no human trafficking that arises out of this investigation,” he said. But Kridos did not concede that a mistake had been made. He said the case “had all the appearances of human trafficking” when it began, comparing it to a traffic stop when someone is suspected of carrying illegal drugs; if none are found, cops let the suspect go.
In this case, prosecutors reviewed more than a dozen boxes of evidence and decided, Kridos said, that “we had no evidence to charge anybody with human trafficking.”