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OPINION

Robert Kraft dodged prosecution; the women did not. That is wrong

An unfair outcome is especially depressing in this case.

The Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla.
The Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The prostitution case featuring the alleged activities of Robert Kraft during visits to a humble Florida day spa was supposed to be about protecting women from sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Instead, it’s a sad story of sex in a strip mall — and a textbook case in how justice works for the rich.

In September, misdemeanor prostitution charges were dropped against the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots. But four women who worked at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, in Jupiter, Fla., saw no such happy legal ending. According to the AP, two of them pleaded guilty last week to one count of soliciting another to commit prostitution; they were fined $5,000 each and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service. Two others previously reached deals with prosecutors.

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Kraft never even stepped foot in court. How did he get off with an apology, weighted by a moderate dose of mortification? The evidence against him included video recordings that, according to police, show Kraft and other men engaging in sex acts with women and paying them. But Kraft’s high-powered legal team argued any videos should be thrown out because they violated his privacy rights. A county court judge agreed, and an appeals court backed up that ruling. Without the recordings, there was no case, prosecutors said.

But somehow there was enough evidence to prosecute the women.

“Orchids of Asia Day Spa was a notorious brothel in a family shopping center,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told The Palm Beach Post. “Rich guys from a local country club lined up to receive sex acts throughout the day until the place closed around midnight.”

Despite Kraft’s visits to that “notorious brothel,” he ultimately dodged prosecution. The women did not. That is wrong.

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“The law should be fair,” said Renée Landers, a Suffolk University law professor who teaches constitutional law and has researched gender issues in the prosecution of crimes related to sexual activity. “It’s against the law to pay for sexual services and to offer them for pay. If that is going to be the law, both sides of the transaction should be equally culpable under the law.”

An unfair outcome is especially depressing in this case. When the Orchids of Asia sting first made headlines, in February 2019, it was cast as a strike on behalf of women who needed protection from men who cruelly exploited them. After receiving a tip about the spa, Jupiter police staked out the business and pulled trash from dumpsters that they said showed evidence of sexual activity. On the basis of a sex trafficking claim, they also got a judge to issue a so-called sneak-and-peak warrant, which allowed them to hide video cameras inside the massage rooms and lobby. The videos allegedly showed Kraft twice paying for a sexual encounter, including on Jan. 20, 2019, just hours before the Patriots won that year’s AFC Championship game.

Prosecutors said it was part of a sweeping investigation into an international crime ring that trafficked Asian women for sex. At a news conference at the time, Aronberg said the women in such sex-trafficking rings are “themselves victims, lured into promises of a better life,” only to be forced into working in sweatshops and brothels. “It is evil in our midst,” he said.

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No evidence of sex trafficking ever materialized. Today it seems clear that police overstepped their bounds and prosecutors oversold their case. When they tried to save face, women paid the price.

Meanwhile, life goes on comfortably for Kraft. He’s planning to build a soccer stadium in Boston for the New England Revolution. He’s watching the Patriots claw back for respect after the departure of quarterback Tom Brady and still expecting induction someday into the Football Hall of Fame.

The moral of the story: For a rich, white man, sex can be fun and games — but still a crime for the women he pays.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.