In Robert Kraft prostitution case, possible eyewitness could go against Patriots owner

With defense attorneys challenging key pieces of evidence in the misdemeanor prostitution charges against Robert Kraft, law enforcement sources familiar with the case have told Yahoo Sports the prosecution is seeking to bolster its case with possible eyewitness cooperation against the New England Patriots owner.

The sources declined to say if the prosecution’s efforts are in response to a recent motion filed by Kraft’s legal team that is seeking to suppress police surveillance from inside the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, as well as evidence collected during a traffic stop following Kraft’s visit to the establishment. However, the sources said the prosecution was continuing to develop information that could be introduced against Kraft in a jury trial, including potential eyewitness testimony in the event other evidence is suppressed.

Kraft is among 25 men who have been charged with soliciting prostitution at the spa, along with related charges against owner Hua Zhang and manager Lei Wang. Zhang and Wang were arrested following the sting operation, which was carried out by the Jupiter Police Department and other authorities. One unexplained question in the sweep is the status of Orchids Spa employee Shen Mingbi. According to charging documents, both Wang and Mingbi were identified by police as having engaged in sexual acts with Kraft on video surveillance obtained by authorities. However, while Wang has been arrested and charged, Mingbi has gone without charges. To date, prosecutors and police have declined to say why.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft addresses the crowd during an NFL football Super Bowl send-off rally for the team, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. The Los Angeles Rams are to play the Patriots in Super Bowl 53 on Feb. 3, in Atlanta, Ga. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Police in Florida say they have video evidence of Patriots owner Robert Kraft soliciting prostitution at a spa. Kraft's legal team is fighting to have video suppressed. (AP)

What if Kraft gets video suppressed?

Developments in Kraft’s case could have significant ramifications on the broader prosecution of others. Particularly if his defense team is able to suppress evidence collected in video surveillance and the traffic stop that ultimately identified Kraft after a visit to the Orchids Spa. As it stands, Kraft’s lawyers have argued in their motion that authorities overreached to secure video surveillance under the guise of a human trafficking investigation. To date, authorities have not filed trafficking charges in relation to the Orchids Day Spa. Given that reality, Kraft’s lawyers have argued that low-level misdemeanor prostitution occurrences at the location made the need for video surveillance “categorically unnecessary and inappropriate”. If the court agrees, the potential dismissal of the video could also impact others who were charged using similar evidence.

Pretrial hearings in the case are slated to begin in Florida on April 9.

Potential NFL reaction to Kraft case

How any of this impacts Kraft’s standing with the NFL’s personal conduct code will be a whole other matter. One which won’t play out until after there is some element of resolution to the current charges. But commissioner Roger Goodell will be walking a tightrope of sorts with any decision, largely because the players’ union has taken note of the league rendering decisions without some kind of definitive legal decision one way or the other.

Two recent suspensions by Goodell, for example – the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and the Cleveland Browns’ Kareem Hunt – came without any legal charges filed. In Hunt’s case, the league’s decision was bolstered by video evidence. Elliott’s was more contentious and disjointed, with the league ultimately delivering a suspension despite documented concerns raised by one of the NFL’s in-house investigators.

And then there was the ball-deflation suspension of the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, which ultimately stood on science that appeared to be arguable at best.

The impact any of those cases could have on Kraft is unclear. Partially because he’s a team owner and the league has represented that it holds owners to a higher standard, but also because it’s not clear what the NFL could do if Kraft wins his case via the judicial system or in the event that charges are dropped against him.

The only suggestion from the league is Goodell’s repeated statement that NFL owners are subject to the personal conduct policy in the same manner as players. So it stands to reason that if the league didn’t need a guilty verdict in other cases to act on a suspension of players, it wouldn’t need one in Kraft’s case, either.

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