The Martin County Sheriff’s Office hosts a news conference Feb. 19, 2019 detailing a local human trafficking ring that was busted across Treasure Coast, Palm Beach and Orange counties.
Hannah Schwab, email@example.com
STUART, Fla. – A law firm that represents at least a dozen clients of day spas in Martin and Palm Beach counties targeted in a human trafficking crackdown is suing two law enforcement agencies to block release of video recorded during a months-long investigation.
Days after the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and Jupiter Police Department announced the arrests of several women accused of managing five spas involved in soliciting sex and potentially hundreds of male clients, Stuart attorney Richard Kibbey filed emergency petitions with the Circuit Courts in Martin and Palm Beach counties, asking judges to stop the agencies from releasing any video recordings and customer lists known to investigators.
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Kibbey, who says he represents clients charged with soliciting prostitution and other men who visited the spas but haven’t been arrested, also sued the State Attorney’s Offices in the 19th and 15th Judicial Circuits.
“We’re trying to get a judge to do what the police and prosecutors should do on their own, but we’re afraid for various reasons they won’t,” Kibbey said. “There’s a constitutional provision for personal privacy, and Florida is very specific about that against governmental intrusion.”
A multi-agency investigation that began in 2018 revealed potential human traffickers were luring vulnerable women to massage parlors in several Florida counties, where, police say, they were coerced into performing sex acts on patrons. About 300 arrest warrants have been issued in the Orlando area, the Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County.
In Jupiter, billionaire NFL team owner Robert Kraft, whom Kibbey does not represent, has been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in a Florida spa, according to 15th Circuit State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Kraft, 77, is accused of twice paying for sexual services at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
The Jupiter spa was one of 10 across Florida shut down after being tied to an international human trafficking ring.
Thomas Baird, attorney for Jupiter police, said the department has released no video recordings.
The recordings are part of an ongoing criminal investigation and exempt from public-records law disclosures, Baird said.
On Feb. 18, as Martin County authorities were announcing multiple arrests and shuttered four day spas, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office asked Martin County Judge Darren Steele to order sealing evidence collected by investigators, including an application for a search warrant to install cameras inside the spas; the probable-cause affidavits; and “inventories and other documents” related to the investigation.
Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Steele’s order already bans the release of video recordings.
“Releasing any video to the public at this point,” Snyder said, “certainly would only be for prurient reason for whoever wanted that, and we didn’t want to do that.”
Martin investigators don’t have the names of clients who weren’t arrested, Synder said.
“If somebody came in and got a foot massage, we don’t have their name,” he said. “We did not get their names. … All we have are the offenders. That’s all the information we have.”
Officials in State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office declined to comment.
Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler, who works for 19th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bruce Colton, said they have 20 days to respond to the suit and likely will seek to be dismissed.
“We’ve already informed the Kibbey law firm that we do not have any of this evidence,” he said.
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