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Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged in prostitution sting; Trump calls charges ‘very sad’

Kraft faces two counts of soliciting prostitution at a Florida spa. The charges are part of a sweeping human-trafficking sting.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft yells to fans during their Super Bowl victory parade through downtown Boston earlier this month.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft yells to fans during their Super Bowl victory parade through downtown Boston earlier this month.Read moreElise Amendola / AP

Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots and one of the NFL’s most powerful figures, has been charged as part of a prostitution sting in Florida, police said Friday.

Kraft, 77, faces two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in a strip mall in Jupiter, Fla., which was among 10 locations shut down after a months-long investigation into alleged human trafficking.

During the investigation, Jupiter Police Detective Andrew Sharp said, secret cameras were installed in the massage rooms. As a result, there was video evidence of Kraft engaging in sexual activity during two separate visits “about a month ago” to the spa, which charged on average $59 for half an hour and $79 for an hour, Sharp said at a news conference.

"The video that we obtained, it shows the act that took place. On every gentleman that you have a list of, the act that took place is recorded on that video,” he said. “Does the video contain Mr. Kraft inside receiving the alleged acts? The answer is yes.”

A spokesperson for Kraft pushed back against the claims.

“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”

Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr told reporters that the case had been handed over to the state’s attorney’s office, and that a warrant would be issued for Kraft’s arrest.

According to Treasure Coast Newspapers, about 200 arrest warrants were issued this week in connection with the 10 spas, and more are expected. Stemming from a months-long surveillance of area massage parlors, charges against spa owners and clients include human trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, but the large majority are for solicitation of prostitution, according to arrest reports provided by the police.

John Childs, the founder of investing firm J.W. Childs, which backs Philly-based motorcycle apparel brand RevZilla, was also tied to the sting, charged earlier this week with soliciting prostitution at Vero Beach spa.

According to Kerr, many of the women working at the spa came from China on temporary work visas, believing there was legitimate employment waiting for them. Instead, they were allegedly forced into becoming prostitutes, forced to perform sex acts for paying clients.

“Some of them are trying to make a better life for themselves,” Kerr told reporters. “These people truly are stuck.”

The investigation of massage parlors along Florida’s Treasure Coast began in August in Vero Beach, Fla., following “numerous citizen complaints,” arrest records showed. On Thursday, a day before Kraft was charged in the sting, officials issued warrants for 173 people, on charges ranging from human trafficking to racketeering to soliciting prostitution. Kraft’s name was announced in the second wave of charges in the probe — a result of differing judicial districts, and not the NFL magnate’s notoriety, Kerr said.

When law enforcement began video surveillance outside the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in November, officers noticed that only male clients entered the building, despite the business’ marketing toward a mainly female clientele, the New York Times reported. A subsequent health inspection showed the women working at the spa were living there, and police interviews of men leaving the parlor revealed that they had received sexual acts while inside, according to the Times.

The spa where Kraft allegedly visited is nestled in a strip mall with a Thai restaurant, a surf shop, and an Outback Steakhouse. Several doors down, at Goodfella’s Pizza, owner and Philadelphia transplant Joseph Bompartito told the Times he became skeptical of the spa in January, when police evacuated only the massage parlor for a possible bomb threat and suspicious package. That’s when law enforcement installed cameras inside the business, according to a police timeline.

“If it was a real bomb scare, why wouldn’t they have evacuated the rest of the mall?” he told the Times, adding that he had also worked next to a spa raided by police in Philly.

Bompartito said of the women from Orchids of Asia “looked malnourished” and would walk around the strip mall during lunchtime daily, without eating or talking to anyone.

Of the nearly 200 people charged in the case, Kraft is by far the most notable. After purchasing the Patriots in 1994, Kraft transformed the team into a dynasty that’s made the playoffs 18 times and won six Super Bowls, including this year’s victory over the Los Angeles Rams. In Boston, fans outside Gillette Stadium told local TV stations Friday they were stunned by the news of the charges.

But the NFL heavyweight’s influence extends outside of the New England kingdom he’s created. One of the loudest voices in NFL ownership, Kraft is on the committee that decides commissioner Roger Goodell’s salary and is a personal friend of President Donald Trump’s.

Despite his status as a lifelong Democrat, Kraft has maintained a long term friendship with Trump, donated $1 million toward the president’s inauguration, and become a frequent guest at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump weighed in on the case Friday afternoon, calling the charges “very sad” and saying he was surprised by the claims.

Kraft has four children, and his wife, Myra Hiatt, died in 2011. The NFL owner has been dating Ricki Noel Lander, a 39-year-old television actress, since 2012. Though Kraft, whose reported net worth is above $6 billion, lives in Massachusetts, he also owns property in Palm Beach, Fla., according to the Palm Beach Post.

The Patriots owner has been spotted around the Philadelphia area lending his support to previously incarcerated rapper Meek Mill. In January, Kraft joined forces with Mill, rapper Jay-Z, and 76ers owner Michael Rubin to announce the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice reform organization. And when the Pats celebrated their Super Bowl win in February, it was a gift from Mill hanging from Kraft’s neck: a massive gold chain and diamond-encrusted pendant spelling “Championships” and “Dream Chasers.”

According to the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Kraft could be punished even if the charges don’t result in a criminal conviction. The league says disciplinary options against players include fines, suspensions, and banishment, and that team owners or league managers are “held to a higher standard” and subject to “more significant discipline.”

In a statement, the NFL said that the league was "aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 following his arrest on drug charges in 2014.