Florida judge blocks release of video in Patriots owner prostitution case

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[April 18, 2019]    By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) - A Florida judge on Wednesday blocked prosecutors from releasing surveillance video from inside the massage parlor where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and dozens of other men have been accused of soliciting prostitution.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reacts before Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. John David Mercer-USA TODAY/File Photo

Prosecutors said earlier in the day in court filings that they would release the recordings, which were captured by police using hidden cameras, in response to public records requests under Florida's expansive open government laws.

But Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx, who is overseeing the cases involving the spa's owner and manager, ruled that the video would remain sealed pending an April 29 hearing, when he will consider whether the evidence should be suppressed, according to court records.

Lawyers for Kraft, who has apologized for his actions at the Orchids of Asia Spa but pleaded not guilty to the charges, on Friday asked the judge handling Kraft's case to suppress the videotaped evidence of their client, saying it amounted to "basically pornography." A hearing on that matter is scheduled for next week.

In a letter filed with the court on Thursday, Kraft's lawyers accused prosecutors of committing "gross prosecutorial misconduct" by suggesting they would release the footage before its legality has been established.

Authorities in February announced misdemeanor charges against the 77-year-old Kraft and 24 other men for soliciting prostitution, part of a broader investigation of sex trafficking at massage parlors.

Media companies including ABC and ESPN opposed Kraft's motion, saying the judge would violate Florida's public records laws by suppressing the video.

Kraft purchased the Patriots, one of the National Football League's most successful franchises, in 1994. The team won its sixth Super Bowl under his ownership in February.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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