Thursday, March 14, 2019

Hidden cameras, traffic stops, and envelopes stuffed with cash were part of Florida prostitution sting that has ties to politics, Trump, and the Republican Party

Robert Kraft
Legally questionable traffic stops and cleverly placed cameras played a central role in the Florida prostitution sting that netted the arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, among others, according to a new report from the Miami Herald. Oh, and don't forget envelopes stuffed with cash, frozen at perhaps the nation's two most famed banks.

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 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
“They’re claiming human trafficking, which is a serious offense,” Schwartzreich said. “But if the women were being victimized like they said, how could they sit there and watch the acts and not make arrests?”

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.


Anonymous said...

These rich guys can afford to throw money at lawyers to fight this. The cops better have their act together.

Anonymous said...

Love the Kraft meme with Terry Bradshaw standing there.

Chuckles said...

So the client were attracted to Orchids by How classic is that?

They used digital technology to get their digits serviced.

Anonymous said...

Hope the cops covered their bases. Don't want to see these slugs skate.

Anonymous said...

A golf party of eight showed up at Orchids? Ha! They must have all hit way off the fairway, into the deep rough.

Anonymous said...

A visit to Orchids must be one way rich guys show off their "family values."

Anonymous said...

Ick! This made me want to lose my lunch . . .

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].”

Anonymous said...

You won't find Jeff Sessions at Orchids of Asia.

legalschnauzer said...

This CNBC report has more information about how police installed hidden cameras:

The footage, obtained by CNBC, is from a 2015 South Florida massage parlor investigation where police installed hidden cameras after hiring a locksmith to get inside the business in order to capture prostitution taking place in the rooms. The spa later shut down after police arrested dozens of customers. Police were able to install hidden cameras after obtaining a special warrant.

"From the attorney general of the state of Florida to other law enforcement agencies that have contacted us, and me personally, the question is, how in the world did you do this?" Martin County Sheriff William Snyder told CNBC.

The answer: delayed-notice search warrants, better known as sneak-and-peek warrants.

The warrants allow law enforcement to secretly install hidden cameras inside private businesses to monitor illegal activity.

legalschnauzer said...

New York Post has more about money found, so far, in prostitution investigation:

Police seized almost $200,000 in connection with a Florida massage parlor where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was accused of paying for sexual acts, court records released Tuesday show.

Search warrants show Jupiter police found $183,000 in bank safety deposit boxes belonging to two women who authorities say owned the spa and an employee. Officers also froze numerous bank accounts belonging to Orchids of Asia Spa owners Hua Zhang and Lei Wang, but the amounts in those accounts were not released. They say they also seized the business’ surveillance equipment. The women are charged with numerous felonies involving a prostitution business, while Kraft is charged with misdemeanor solicitation. All have denied wrongdoing.

Anonymous said...

How do you tie Cindy Yang into this? She sold the massage parlor years ago. And don’t give us the human trafficking bullshit, unless YOU have PROOF. She just looks like a homely Asian chick who was excited to get a selfie with POTUS.

legalschnauzer said...

The national press has tied Yang into this, via her activities in GOP fundraising. I'm hardly alone in that.

e.a.f. said...

A. 9:05 P.M. there is no such thing as a "homely Asian chick". Sexist language. Get a grip, its 2019.

A selfie with Trump means she has enough money to get that close to him at an event. People who are involved in the massage parlour "industry" such as Cindy Yang, may "sell" the business, but retain interests. Some times the 'sale' of a business is simply the transfer of title to avoid other unpleasantness as people work their way up the "food chain".