Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged on two counts of soliciting prostitution in Florida, and his involvement in the scandal will be what carries the news. But it’s worth pointing out that the investigation that ensnared Kraft isn’t limited to only him, and the alleged crimes of those who owned the massage parlors extend beyond simple solicitation.
The Jupiter Police Department first announced that Kraft had been charged, though several other law enforcement agencies in the area also held press conferences to discuss what has been a months-long investigation into sex trafficking rings across several counties in South Florida. News first broke Tuesday, when Jupiter PD released a 17-page arrest affidavit for Hua Zhang and Lei Wang, two women charged with four counts of prostitution-related offenses.
Cops started looking into the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in October 2018, and they recorded video of 26 men paying for a variety of sex acts in January, when Kraft allegedly visited the spa. Jupiter police released a list of 25 people charged with solicitation today, including Kraft. Martin County Sheriff William Snyder announced the bust Tuesday, identifying five massage parlors that officials surveilled. He said it was a human trafficking case, and that the massage parlor workers were being treated as victims, not as paid sex workers. (Snyder starts at about the 13-minute mark in the video below.)
Snyder outlined a transcontinental human trafficking operation: “The tentacles of this go from here to New York to China, in Florida from here to Orange County.” Officials seized between $2 and $3 million in assets, and traced the contours of an allegedly extensive money laundering operation. Women were allegedly moved from location to location within a network of spas, and were not given access to transportation. The women, all from China, were coerced into “graphic sexual activity, very risky behavior.” They were given no days off, forced to service an estimated 1,500 men a year without ever seeing much of the money they generated. From the Treasure Coast Palm:
“It was clear that multiple women were working and living inside the spas. They were cooking on the back steps of the business,” Snyder said. “They were sleeping in the massage parlor on the massage tables.”
While only 25 men have been served arrest warrants, Snyder said he expects that number to eventually quadruple.
Meanwhile, the Indian River County sheriff announced the results of a similar but apparently unrelated bust on spas, with 173 men served with arrest warrants on similar charges. More are being arrested, and as was the case with the busts announced by Jupiter police and Martin County officials, law enforcement is still speaking to victims, with the help of translators, to investigate the trafficking angle. Both Indian River and Martin County officials outlined the same scheme: Poor women pay brokers to come over from China to work what they think will be legitimate jobs as maids or houseworkers, only to be coerced into sex work.
Sheriff Snyder said that none of the victims were underage. It is worth mentioning that sex trafficking cases are often overblown by the authorities, and that the work of willing sex workers is often unfairly conflated with that of trafficking victims.
“I think it’s very safe to say without any hyperbole that this is the tip of the tip of the iceberg,” Snyder said on Tuesday.