Prosecutors in Florida who accused Robert K. Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, of solicitation of prostitution have dropped the misdemeanor charges after losing several key court cases, ending a nearly two-year high-stakes legal and political battle.
The decision, expected after a string of legal defeats weakened the prosecution’s case, marks a definitive victory for Kraft, who claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when police videotaped him in a spa in Jupiter, Fla., where he got a massage on two consecutive days in January 2019.
After a Florida appeals court last month upheld a lower-court ruling that threw out the video evidence in the case, the state’s solicitor general determined that the state Supreme Court was unlikely to hear a further appeal. Continuing to try the case “could have broader, negative implications beyond the limited facts of this case, which could affect law enforcement efforts in the future,” the state attorney general, Ashley Moody, said in a statement on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the state attorney Dave Aronberg, who filed the charges against Kraft and two dozen other men, said he agreed with the attorney general’s decision. He added that there was no way to successfully continue trying the cases without video evidence, and that receipts and other evidence were not sufficient.
“Without the videos, we don’t have a case we can prosecute,” he told reporters. As a result, “we are ethically compelled to drop all the charges.”
Kraft declined to comment.
In their decisions to throw out the video evidence in the case, several judges chastised the police for the way they procured warrants to install hidden video cameras in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft, 79, and other men were filmed allegedly paying for sex.
Four of the men pleaded guilty and settled their cases. None of them served time in jail.
While Kraft apologized in a statement for his actions, he pleaded not guilty and hired lawyers to fight the charges. He successfully persuaded a judge to block the video recordings, which are the only known evidence that the men paid for sex, from being made public. This week, Kraft’s lawyers filed a motion asking that the recordings be destroyed so they could never be released.
Aronberg said a judge would have to decide whether the footage should be destroyed. But for now, the recordings may still be needed because felony charges against the owner and manager of the spa, as well as a class-action case against Aronberg, are still pending.
Kraft and the other men were charged in February 2019 as part of a multiple-county investigation of massage parlors and potential human sex trafficking. Aronberg said that while evidence in the case was thrown out, he stood behind his decision to file charges. The Orchids of Asia Spa, he said, was a “notorious brothel” where “rich guys” went to buy sex.
He said that there was also evidence of human trafficking at a spa in Vero Beach, where one woman, he said, was forced to commit sex acts against her will.
But he reiterated that Kraft and the other 24 men charged with misdemeanors were not accused of human trafficking and did not have any knowledge of its existence at the spas.
Aronberg said the case “was never about one individual.” But in a veiled shot, he said that there are “economic inequities” in how cases proceed and that wealthy people can hire expensive lawyers to poke holes in cases.
While the charges against Kraft have been dropped, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., can still fine or suspend him for conduct detrimental to the league.