Charges against dozens of men accused in investigations of sex acts for pay at area spas are being dropped after a decision by officials not to appeal a court ruling throwing out video recordings of the acts.
Prosecutors this week said they would not appeal a court ruling throwing out video recordings allegedly showing customers paying for massage spa sex acts.
Prosecutors decided that if they challenged last month’s Florida 4th District Court of Appeal decision to the state Supreme Court and lost, it could have “broader, negative implications” on future law enforcement investigations, The Florida Attorney General’s Office said.
More: Florida decision likely clears Robert Kraft of solicitation
The spa investigations in Martin and Indian River counties and in Jupiter in Palm Beach County received national attention after Jupiter police alleged New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft got sex services twice in as many days at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in January 2019.
In Indian River County, 60 to 65 men will have misdemeanor charges dropped, according to Assistant State Attorney Steven Wilson on Wednesday.
“That dismissal is based upon the attorney general’s office … (deciding) not to further appeal the 4th District Court of Appeal ruling that that evidence is no longer available to us to use in criminal prosecution,” Wilson said.
Wilson said about 55 men already entered and completed a diversion program, and had their charges disposed. Two spas were targeted in Indian River County.
More: A year after day spa sex-for-pay crackdown, Robert Kraft and others still face charges
“That decision on whether to appeal further is a strategic and tactical one that is made and we’re going to have to live with the effects of that here on the ground level of the prosecution,” Wilson said.
He said officials are in the process of requesting that warrants be dismissed for fewer than 15 people who have yet to be arrested.
In Martin County, where four spas were scrutinized, charges against 33 are being dropped, Assistant State Attorney Nirlaine Smartt said.
She said 53 already went through the diversion process.
“We were hoping that they would continue up the chain and appeal it to the Florida Supreme Court but they chose not to,” Smartt said.
There was no immediate word from Palm Beach County, which had more than 20 cases. The most notable of them was Kraft, a part-time Palm Beach resident.
Kraft led the fight against using the videos as evidence.
Initially announced as a potential human sex-trafficking investigation — assertions authorities later backed away from — the day spa crackdowns sparked a national debate over privacy rights and the government’s ability to secretly video record citizens, while in pursuit of criminal charges.
More: Hidden cameras, sex-for-cash & trash forages: How police solved Florida sex-trafficking cases
The spa investigations began being revealed publicly in February 2019 at a briefing at the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, and ultimately resulted in arrests of spa owners and workers and hundreds of male clients.
Vero Beach attorney Andrew Metcalf stated he represented about 100 of the men in the appeal.
He said he thought investigative agencies owed the community an apology.
“The only people that did anything illegal was law enforcement,” Metcalf said. “I think it’s a lot worse to violate someone’s 4th Amendment than to commit a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
The Palm Beach Post contributed to this report.
Will Greenlee is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. He also covers strange, wild and weird Treasure Coast crimes in “Off The Beat.” Follow Will on Twitter @OffTheBeatTweet or reach him by phone at 772-692-8936. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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