The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Robert Kraft dodged charges from prostitution sting. The Orchids of Asia employees did not.

Robert Kraft still could be punished by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

In September, prosecutors in Florida dropped misdemeanor prostitution charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft after a state appeals court ruled that footage of Kraft from a police-installed video camera inside the Orchids of Asia spa had been obtained using unconstitutional methods and would be inadmissible at trial.

The case didn’t end there, however. Three Orchids of Asia employees, including two women Kraft was accused of patronizing, have pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges. They must pay thousands of dollars in fines, court fees and cash forfeitures and face months of probation. One other employee already had pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced to the 60 days she had spent in custody awaiting an outcome of her case.

Shen Mingbi, one of the two women Kraft was accused of patronizing, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of soliciting another to commit prostitution, according to court papers filed Monday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. She must forfeit $20,000 to the Jupiter Police Department and pay at least $5,000 in fines and fees. Mingbi also was sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service, but because of the coronavirus pandemic she can pay $1,000 to get out of it.

Hua Zhang, the Orchids of Asia owner and the other woman Kraft was accused of patronizing, also pleaded guilty earlier in November to one count of soliciting another to commit prostitution along with one count of renting a space to be used for prostitution. She also was fined $5,000 and faces the same probation and community-service requirements as Zhang. She also must submit to testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Lei Wang, the Orchids of Asia manager, also pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting another to commit prostitution. Both she and Zhang were charged with that and several other crimes (deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution, maintaining a house of prostitution, and renting space for prostitution), but prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges in exchange for Wang’s guilty plea. All three women will have their charges expunged from their records if they complete the terms of their probation.

In February, Orchids of Asia employee Lei Chen pleaded guilty to several counts of offering to commit prostitution. She was given credit for the 60 days in jail she already had spent and sentenced to time served.

While Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said the inadmissible video evidence doomed his cases against Kraft and others caught up in the video sting, he said he had enough evidence to move forward with charges against the Orchids of Asia employees.

“Orchids of Asia day spa was a notorious brothel in a family shopping center,” Aronberg said, per the Palm Beach Post.

“Rich guys from a local country club lined up to receive sex acts throughout the day until the place closed around midnight,” Aronberg said.

Orchids of Asia was one of 10 businesses targeted in Florida by prosecutors and various law enforcement agencies, an effort they initially claimed was made to find victims of human trafficking. But after Kraft was arrested and the investigation was thrust into the national spotlight, that claim fell apart. Aronberg would tell a judge in Kraft’s case that investigators had found no evidence of human trafficking.

Kraft was one of 25 people facing first-degree misdemeanor charges for soliciting prostitution at Orchids of Asia. Investigators said they twice captured Kraft on a video camera secretly installed inside the spa, including one incident on the morning of the AFC championship game in January 2019, when Kraft’s Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL owner apologized for his actions but pleaded not guilty and mounted a vigorous defense, and in August a Florida appeals court ruled that the video of Kraft would be inadmissible at trial, confirming a lower-court ruling that the “sneak and peak” search warrant used to obtain the footage violated the fourth-amendment rights of Kraft and others caught up in the sting.

Facing almost certain defeat, prosecutors declined to take up the matter with the Florida Supreme Court and dropped the charges against Kraft, saying their case against him was impossible without the video evidence.

Even though Kraft no longer faces criminal charges, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still may decide to punish him under the league’s personal-conduct policy. A league spokesman did not immediately return an email asking for a status update on the league’s investigation.