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Just Like That, Robert Kraft’s Solicitation Case Is Kaput

Patriots owner Robert Kraft wears a protective mask with "We Are All Patriots" stamped next to a Patriots logo.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty

The Palm Beach County state attorney abandoned Thursday morning what was left of the criminal case against Patriots owner Bob Kraft, declining to pursue any further the charges against Kraft related to the Orchids of Asia prostitution bust in February 2019. So that’s how it all fizzles out, all of that, the whole big salacious scandal—piddly little misdemeanor charges quietly toggling from open to closed on the clerk’s office case-tracking web portal.

A person would almost have a hard time believing how much hubbub this now-euthanized case caused 20 months ago, when Jupiter police announced in a press conference that they’d nabbed an NFL owner in what was then described as a human-trafficking operation. The sequence of revelations leading up to that moment was really quite something. A group of Florida law enforcement agencies announced on a Thursday afternoon that there’d been a big coordinated sting at massage parlors along the Treasure Coast. A series of vague, suspiciously NFL-related questions were asked at the press conference. That evening, a tipster alerted us (at our former place of business) that Kraft might be involved. The following morning, before dawn, I was bombing across the state in a rental car, tracking every little hint of news on my phone while driving at genuinely terrifying speeds, racing to make Jupiter police’s morning press conference. I’d come to Florida’s west coast that week with my wife to visit her terminally ill mother, and there are not many stories that could’ve pried me out of that situation, much less with my wife’s and mother-in-law’s blessings.

The trafficking angle of the case started to come apart less than a month later. As affidavits and arrest warrants became public, it turned out that although police were all too happy to describe the operation they’d busted up as a trafficking ring, no one involved had actually been charged under Florida’s human trafficking statute. As early as March, the prosecutor was offering to dismiss Kraft’s solicitation charges in exchange for Kraft admitting he would’ve been found guilty at trial; by mid-April prosecutors had conceded in court that no evidence existed to support talk of human trafficking at Orchids of Asia, to say nothing of actual charges. Everything since then, 17 months of increasingly silly-seeming court crap, has been one long deflation of the balloon, as prosecutors fought a losing battle to keep what little ill-gained evidence they had to support the misdemeanor charges against their most prominent defendant. Once clandestine video footage of Kraft’s alleged hand job was tossed and then re-tossed on appeal, all that was left was today’s ignominious surrender.

So what was once the explosive story of one of the NFL’s most powerful owners—and, by extension, one of the handful of most powerful people in North American sports—involved in the genuine abomination of human trafficking has instead turned out to be just another story of reckless and illegal policing. The collection of video evidence was sleazy and improper. The self-glorifying talk about thwarting human traffickers was entirely trumped-up bullshit, almost certainly utilized from the beginning in order to allow police to overstep in their investigation. The giveaway there, beyond the utter lack of evidence of trafficking, was how authorities treated the people they’d referred to as “victims” of what State Attorney Dave Aronberg described as “evil in our midst”: The therapist who allegedly treated Kraft was charged with felony prostitution and eight more misdemeanor counts of offering to commit prostitution, and had tens of thousands of dollars of personal savings seized from a safe deposit box.

The difference between this instance of police abuse and all the others is that this time, in the extremely narrow case of solicitation charges against Robert Kraft, the police were thwarted. It happened because this time the person they tried to railroad is rich as hell. Compare the results in Kraft’s case to the charges filed against the women who worked at the massage parlor who were not rich as hell. Lei Chen, 45, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of offering to commit prostitution, per the Palm Beach Post, and the cases against Shen Mingbi, 60, Hua Zhang, 59, and Lei Wang, 41, are still open, according to online court records.

If you’ve got Bob Kraft money, you can fight the law and win, and make the whole dumb pointless thing go away. And when I say “away,” I’m talking about all the way away:

Kraft’s attorneys have already filed a motion asking that the recordings be destroyed so they could never be released to the public. They said Kraft might be willing to pay the state’s costs if anyone challenges a destruction order.

Terry Spencer, Associated Press

If it’s too expensive for the literal state of Florida to make some improperly obtained evidence go away, the defendant in the case will foot the bill himself. Must be nice.