Earlier this fall, Florida prosecutors dropped charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for allegedly getting a rub-and-tug at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, on the grounds that surveillance footage used to try to prosecute him was illegally obtained. But even though Kraft has managed to avoid the fist of the law, the women involved in the case — largely, middle-aged Asian immigrants — have not.
Three employees of Orchids of Asia, including two women who were alleged to have provided services to Kraft, have been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines related to the case, and are facing months of probation.
In 2019, Kraft was charged with solicitation as part of an anti-sex trafficking investigation into a string of about 10 massage parlors in Florida. Prosecutors alleged that on two separate occasions, on January 19th and 20th, 2019, video surveillance footage showed Kraft engaging in a sex act with a worker at the massage parlor. Kraft was charged along with 24 other men in the bust. He pleaded not guilty and the charges against him were dropped when a Florida appeals court ruled that the video surveillance footage featuring him had been obtained illegally, making it non-admissible.
The owner of the spa, Hua Zhang, pleaded guilty to a count of soliciting to commit prostitution and a count of renting a space to commit prostitution. She was sentenced to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service (which she can opt out of by paying an $1,000 fine) and was fined $5,000. She’ll also have to undergo STI testing as part of her sentence.
Another of the women, Shen Mingbi, pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting to commit prostitution. Prior to entering her guilty plea, her bank account was frozen and authorities took away her passport. She must pay $20,000 to the city of Jupiter’s police department and $5,000 in other fees. She was also sentenced to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service. A third woman, spa manager Lei Wang, was sentenced to one year probation after pleading guilty to a count of soliciting to commit prostitution. She must pay fines of up to $6,623 if she wants to get out of having to do community service. Both women will also have to undergo STI testing as part of their sentences.
Local police initially referred to the investigation as a sex-trafficking sting and much of the media covered it as such, to the chagrin of many sex worker activists. “The language of trafficking and sex trafficking was used over and over again, and ultimately all of these resources went to locate adults engaging in consensual activities,” says Dr. Jill McCracken, co-director of the sex-worker rights group SWOP Behind Bars. “That to me is a huge problem and a waste of resources.” Prosecutors later determined there was no evidence that sex trafficking took place at the establishment. “It was somehow easier for law enforcement officers in South Florida to believe that the women had been sold into sex slavery by a global crime syndicate than to acknowledge that immigrant women of precarious status, hemmed in by circumstance, might choose sex work,” Vanity Fair writer May Jeong wrote in an October 2019 piece about the flawed investigation.
The penalization of the massage parlor workers while sparing the clientele in question is “actually incredibly typical,” says sex-worker rights advocate Kate D’Adamo. “Honestly, the only unique thing about this story is that it’s getting media attention and the results of these raids are being reported beyond the initial charges.” McCracken agreed: “This does not surprise me, as upsetting as it is to say. The people with less resources are the ones ultimately paying the price.”
Lawyers for Kraft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.