Judge unseals videos as evidence in massage parlor sting.
Videos of sex acts and other evidence collected in a massage parlor sting are no longer under a court seal, a Martin County judge ordered Friday.
The big question remains whether those videos — taken by police during their human trafficking and prostitution investigation — will ever be released to the public.
If attorneys for dozens of men arrested on prostitution charges get their wish, the answer will be no.
“This is going to be a slugfest, so to speak,” said criminal defense attorney Richard Kibbey. “We are trying to defend our clients’ right to privacy.”
Judge Darren Steele canceled a hearing set for Monday where lawyers for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and other media outlets planned to argue for the records to be unsealed under Florida’s public records laws.
The media relies upon “state, county, and local public records, as well as judicial records, to gather information for this critical news story,” media lawyers argued in a pleading Thursday.
While Steele did not explain his decision, the ruling appears to clear the way for reporters to make public records requests to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, keeper of the videos and investigation records.
Steele’s ruling has no bearing on the videos and evidence collected by Jupiter Police in their related sting that resulted in charges against Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots.
He has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution, connected to his
alleged visits in January to the Orchids of Asia.
There is a pending lawsuit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court calling for all videos from the Jupiter spa to remain off limits to the public. There have been no hearings set in that case.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of unnamed men who have and who have not been arrested. They say they fear the release “will result in irreparable harm and further public humiliation, shame, ridicule and cause damage to their reputations and the reputation of their family members.”
Law enforcement hid recording devices during investigations into 10 spas from Jupiter to Martin County to Orlando. The businesses were shut down and several people, mostly women originally from China, were charged with running brothels.
Attorney Kibbey, of Stuart, who represents 12 accused spa patrons, said releasing he tapes would disgrace his clients.
He has called the surreptitious recordings “an insult to the decency of our society, and is an unprecedented abuse of police powers.”
But the media attorneys said embarrassment is not a good reason to disregard
the public records laws, which they said are designed to reveal the identities of most people accused of crimes and keep the public informed about the activities of government.
The media outlets have been seeking access to the videos as well as search warrant applications, supporting affidavits and investigative records seized from the spas.
Kibbey said the tapes were made unlawfully because neither the masseuses nor the clients knew they were being taped.
The attorney still cheered Steele’s order for enabling him to finally see the investigation files and then prepare a defense.
The investigations first became public on Feb. 19, when Martin County Sheriff William Snyder announced the arrests of several men receiving sex from women believed to be victimized through a sex trafficking ring.
The investigations found Asian immigrant women were living in the spas, who had no way to leave and were having sex with eight clients a day with no days off.
Onlookers checked out the Orchids of Asia Day Spa after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with allegedly soliciting sex on Feb. 22.