Judge un­seals videos as ev­i­dence in mas­sage par­lor sting.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Marc Free­man and Lois K. Solomon mjfree­[email protected]­tinel .com, 561-243-6642 or Twit­ter @mar­cjfree­man

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.

GETTY

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.

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