The prostitution story has become a political story since revelations that the founder of targeted massage parlors (Cindy Yang) has been active in fundraising for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
The Herald examined search warrants to determine how the sting operation started and how it led to the arrest of 26 men, including Kraft, so far. From the newspaper's account:
It began in October with a tip from the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and a Google search of a massage parlor review site called Rubmaps.com. By the middle of March, at least 12 bank accounts had been frozen, 26 men were charged with soliciting prostitution and the two women accused of running the establishment were under house arrest, wearing ankle bracelets, and had to pay more than $500,000 to get out of jail.
But it’s what happened between those dates and what the search warrants don’t fully explain that gave the takedown of a nondescript little strip mall massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida, its international prominence: the charging of a billionaire football team owner.
Later, came a bizarre ancillary development, when it turned out that the former owner of the spa was a woman who took selfies with President Donald Trump, Sen. Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis and a host of other Republican luminaries.
The sting operation began about five months ago, and at one point, police watched as a golf party of eight entered the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, FL. From the Herald:
According to recently released search warrants from the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, Jupiter police were tipped off to suspected illicit activity at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter on Oct. 18. The agency had received a tip from the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, which by then was well into a prostitution and human trafficking investigation that would result in the closing of 10 spas and the arrest of hundreds of johns.
By Nov. 6, police were surveilling the Jupiter massage parlor from the outside. In just over a week, police said they saw more than 80 men enter the business, including one golf party of eight, and stay for no longer than 45 minutes. By Nov. 14, according to the warrant, the state Department of Health was called in to take a look. It reported that the spa had beds and dressers and that women appeared to be living there.
How did police gather evidence? In some cases, it was messy:
A woman tossing trash into a bin out back caught the attention of police. Police searched the trash bin and after piecing torn-up paper back together, determined it was a spreadsheet listing names, times and type of payments, and whether they were cash or credit.
Also inside a plastic bag, according to police: “Several plastic napkins which were wet and appeared to be covered in [semen].”
Before long, cops were closing in on the massage parlor customers:
By Jan. 10, police began following customers as they left the premises and stopped them for various traffic infractions, the search warrant claims. Almost all the men had the same story: They paid about $70 for a back massage and when that was done, a masseuse would work on their genitals until they climaxed.
What about the placement of cameras, which reportedly caught Kraft in action:
On Jan. 17, Jupiter police said they used a “tactical ruse” to get everyone out of the spa. What type of ruse they used is not explained. But detectives said they were able to enter the spa and place surveillance cameras in four of the massage rooms and the main lobby.
That’s also when police first came into contact with Hua Zhang, 58, and Lei Wang, 45, the two women who police say ran the enterprise.
Two days later, a visit to the spa by the 77-year-old owner of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots would eventually generate national headlines for Orchids of Asia. Police say Robert Kraft first visited the spa on Jan. 19. The next day, less than 10 hours before his team was to kick off the AFC Championship game in Kansas City more than 1,400 miles away, Kraft visited once again, according to police documents.
Police say they knew it was Kraft because he handed over his license during the traffic stop of his white Bentley on Jan. 19. When he visited the next day, he was in his blue Bentley, police say. They also claim to have his encounter inside the spa on surveillance video. Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution. He has since pleaded not guilty.
Questions already are being raised about police tactics in the case:
Attorney Eric Schwartzreich, who represents one of the customers charged, took issue with the “Sneak and Peek” warrants that were initially authorized as part of the Patriot Act, when federal agents were chasing down suspected terrorists. He also said “it certainly raises eyebrows” that all the men committed driving infractions after leaving the spa.
|Orchids of Asia in Jupiter, FL|
Richard Kibbey is a Stuart attorney representing about 30 clients — some of whom were arrested, others who visited spas, and some who were not. Like Schwartzreich, he has concerns that just about every person arrested was stopped for a traffic infraction. He has also petitioned the court not to release any of the video from inside the spas until discovery is made public.
“Up until yesterday [Monday], not much material had been released, so it was difficult to be specific on challenges,” he said. “But no one has been found guilty of anything yet. It’s premature to release it.”
We do know, however, that the case involves some financial oddities:
The search warrant also led police to at least nine accounts at Bank of America and J.P. Morgan that have since been frozen. The warrants claim that at least 14 envelopes were found at Bank of America containing $10,000 each.
Where did all of that cash come from? That is one of many questions still to be answered.