The Florida state attorney’s office in Palm Beach says New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution, days after police alleged surveillance video had caught Kraft during two visits to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg said at a news conference Monday that Kraft, a resident of Massachusetts who also has a home in Palm Beach, is among 25 people facing first-degree misdemeanor charges of soliciting another to commit prostitution.
As for potential penalties, Aronberg said the first-degree misdemeanor charge carries a jail sentence of up to one year, along with “mandatory 100 hours of community service, a mandatory $5,000 fine, and a mandatory class on the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking.”
The police investigation into the spa was aimed at stopping human trafficking, which Aronberg equated to “modern day slavery” and called an “evil in our midst.”
Officials will send Kraft a summons about the charge, the state attorney said. He also said all of the cases will be handled in the same way.
“No one gets any special justice in Palm Beach County,” Aronberg said. He later added that none of the alleged “johns” were targeted, saying they come from “all walks of life — there’s rich [and] poor, there’s young and old.”
The women who worked at the spa were victims of a criminal enterprise who deserve the government’s help, Aronberg said. While he didn’t provide new details about how the women who worked at the Jupiter spa arrived in the U.S., the state attorney described how human traffickers often lure women to come to the U.S. for the promise of a better life, but instead force them into becoming sex workers.
Kraft and the other men were snared in a sting operation that targeted the strip-mall massage parlor and spa — part of a broader investigation into what officials allege is a system of human trafficking and money-laundering.
“He’s being charged with the same offenses as the others,” Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said of Kraft on Friday. He added that there is video evidence of the criminal acts “for all of the individuals being charged.”
“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” a spokesman for The Kraft Group told NPR Friday in a statement about the case. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
Jupiter police raided the Orchids of Asia spa early last week, Kerr said at a news conference Friday. In addition to Jupiter, the coordinated police operation targeted businesses in Martin County and Indian River County. The Jupiter raid came after police collected video evidence from cameras hidden inside the facility.
“We’re as equally stunned as everybody else,” Kerr said of the high-profile suspects who now faced solicitation charges.
Kraft’s is not the only boldface name among the spa’s alleged clients. Also on the list is Citigroup’s former president and chief operation officer John Havens.
The spa charges $59 for a half-hour treatment and $79 for a full hour, Detective Andrew Sharp said on Friday. When Sharp was asked if there is video evidence of Kraft in the massage parlor room receiving alleged sex acts, he replied, “The answer to that is yes.”
In addition to seeking charges against men who visited the spa, Jupiter police also arrested its owner, Hua Zhang, and its manager, Lei Wang.
Kraft, 77, has a net worth that’s estimated at some $6.6 billion. He was recently ranked No. 79 on Forbes magazine’s list of the wealthiest people in the U.S. Most famously, Kraft has turned the Patriots into a dynasty, winning multiple Super Bowl titles since its first championship in 2002. He acquired the franchise in 1994.
In addition to the criminal charge in Florida, Kraft also faces the possibility that the NFL could take act against him.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy said on Friday that the NFL is “aware” of the allegations and is monitoring the case. The NFL’s personal conduct policy explicitly prohibits sex offenses — and the rules apply to everyone in the league, McCarthy said.
The policy also seeks to impose a higher order of responsibility for one’s actions than simply avoiding being found guilty by the justice system.
On Monday, the NFL issued an updated statement saying that it is “seeking a full understanding of the facts,” and pledging to “take appropriate action as warranted based on the facts.”