Robert Kraft charges come as part of human trafficking sting
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, one of the nation’s most powerful sports figures, is expected to face charges of soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor, in a case that could mean lasting damage to his reputation and possible disciplinary action by the National Football League.
As part of an investigation into international human trafficking, hidden surveillance cameras at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla., recorded Kraft engaging in a sex act with a prostitute during two alleged visits to the club between Jan. 18 and Jan. 22, law enforcement authorities said Friday.
“We’re as equally stunned as everybody else,’’ Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said at a news conference.
A spokesperson for Kraft said, “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.’’
The case commanded headlines from Jupiter to Jerusalem as Kraft became implicated in a months-long, multijurisdictional investigation into the alleged exploitation of female immigrants by traffickers and their business customers.
In all, some 200 individuals are expected to be charged in a sweeping investigation of massage parlors across Florida, authorities said Friday. Among those charged was John Childs, the founder of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates of Waltham, Bloomberg News reported. Childs denied wrongdoing.
In Jupiter, police described Kraft as one of 25 men who will face charges in Palm Beach County as a result of the investigation. They said an arrest warrant will be issued for the 77-year-old Patriots owner on two misdemeanor counts of soliciting another to commit prostitution.
Jupiter police did not disclose the exact dates that Kraft allegedly patronized the massage parlor. He was in Kansas City on Jan. 20, when the Patriots defeated the Chiefs to advance to the Super Bowl.
For Kraft, a billionaire corporate executive and major philanthropist, the episode threatens to blemish his image as a friend of both the needy and the elite, including international leaders in sports, the arts, and politics.
The alleged prostitutes, most of whom are Chinese immigrants, were being forced to live in the spas and perform sex acts on eight or more men a day, authorities said.
The Jupiter police chief blamed the alleged customers for contributing to the trafficked women’s plight.
“If there are customers, then these kinds of businesses can flourish,’’ he said.
The Orchids of Asia Day Spa is situated in a shopping mall anchored by a Publix supermarket, about a 30-minute drive from the Mar-a-Lago resort where Kraft has often spent time with his friend, the proprietor, President Trump. Kraft reportedly has a residence in the Palm Beach area.
President Trump, asked Friday about the expected case against Kraft, said, “That’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He’s proclaimed his innocence totally and — but I’m very surprised to see it.”
The Patriots owner has also visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and he is scheduled in June to receive one of Israel’s highest honors, the Genesis Prize, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kraft, who grew up in Brookline and bought the Patriots in 1994, celebrated the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl victory of his tenure on Feb. 3, less than three weeks after the timeframe outlined by authorities in their description of his alleged visits to the spa.
Now, he is expected to receive an arrest warrant within days from the 15th Judicial Circuit in Florida.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey indicated her office is monitoring the case.
“These allegations are deeply disturbing,’’ Healey said through a spokeswoman. “This is an ongoing investigation and we are confident that we’ll learn more in the coming days.”
The misdemeanor charges are punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine. A diversion program involving community service could also be available.
But even if the charges are dropped or Kraft is acquitted, details of his alleged treatment at the spa could prove embarrassing.
When reporters pressed the Jupiter police about whether they had captured Kraft on videotape in the spa room, Detective Andrew Sharp said, “The question was, does the video contain Mr. Kraft inside receiving the alleged acts? The answer to that is yes.”
Police records indicate they recorded every moment from Kraft’s arrival — he was driven there by a person whose identity was not disclosed — until his departure, including his interaction with a woman or women behind closed doors.
In a 16-page affidavit related to two purported leaders of the prostitution ring in Jupiter, police provided detailed accounts of each alleged visit to the spa, based on the video surveillance.
The encounters involved manual and oral sex, and police said the recordings showed the men tipping the women as little as a few dollars and as much as $150 or more before they left. The spa’s stated rates were $59 for a half-hour and $79 for an hour.
Law enforcement authorities indicated they will disclose more details about Kraft’s alleged visits to the spa in a probable cause affidavit.
For Kraft, one of the NFL’s most influential owners, the charges are likely to place him at odds with the league’s personal conduct policy, even if they are dropped or he is acquitted.
The NFL’s conduct policy states, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.”
In 2014, Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 for pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. During his suspension, Irsay was not allowed to be present at the club’s facility, attend any practices or games, represent the club at league meetings or events, conduct any media interviews, or engage in social media regarding team or league matters.
When Irsay was suspended, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel, and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players.”
In 2018, Goodell fined Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson $2.75 million over misconduct in the team’s workplace and accepted Richardson’s pledge to sell the team.
In Kraft’s case, the NFL issued a brief statement saying it “is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
The league is expected to conduct its own investigation of the spa case. The conduct policy details certain types of crimes that will trigger disciplinary action, and though prostitution is not listed, law enforcement considers human trafficking a violent crime because victims can be forced to perform sex acts for money.
The NFL policy also forbids “conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and wellbeing of another person.”
In Florida, the sprawling prostitution investigation has led authorities to shut down 10 spas and bring serious charges against at least three individuals identified as ringleaders.
Childs, another Boston area businessman caught up in the case, hasn’t been arrested, Bloomberg said.
"I have received no contact by the police department about this charge,” he told the news service Friday in a telephone interview. “The accusation of solicitation of prostitution is totally false. I have retained a lawyer.”
The Jupiter case, largely detailed in the 16-page affidavit on the alleged leaders of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, sprang from a tip to police last October. The affidavit says a Google search of the spa showed the business was identified in online reviews with a slang term sometimes used for a business providing sexual services.
A Web forum contained reviews from men posted between February 2015 and May 2018, the affidavit said.
“The postings detailed visits involving Asian females providing sexual acts, as well as massage/body rubs in exchange for payment,” the filing said. “The majority of the posts advised the female employee would provide the male client with” a sexual favor.
Ian Goldstein, a West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney, said law enforcement in the Palm Beach area periodically launch investigations into prostitution rings and in most cases police make sure to publicly disclose the names of the so-called johns.
“They generally are looking to embarrass them as much as anything,’’ he said. “They try to embarrass people to discourage future behavior.”
Goldstein, who is not involved in defending Kraft, said that under Florida law a misdemeanor charge cannot lead to the extradition of a defendant who is out of state, so he did not expect Massachusetts law enforcement to have any role in the Florida case.
He said there are circumstances where defense attorneys are able to convince judges to dismiss cases without defendants appearing in court.
“He might not ever have to go court,’’ Goldstein said.
But given Kraft’s high profile and the attention his case has received, Goldstein was doubtful he would avoid a public appearance.
Goldstein said that because the accused men have become ensnared in a human trafficking case, judges may take a more severe view of the misdemeanor charges.
“Most of the people end up . . . doing community service and that’s the end of it,’’ Goldstein said. “Jail is unlikely . . . but it’s not out of the question.”
This marks the first time Kraft has faced possible sanctions from the NFL for actions unrelated to football. The Patriots paid a $1 million fine and forfeited two draft picks in 2015 over deflated footballs, and they were assessed a $250,000 fine and the loss of their first-round pick over spying allegations in 2007.
The scene at Kraft’s Brookline estate Friday was quiet and still, save for the squawking of the chickens he keeps on his property and the chatter of reporters staking it out. Brookline police kept at least two officers on the scene all day, their cruisers parked across from Kraft’s driveway.
As cars drove through the tony neighborhood, many drivers stopped to take selfies in front of the house and cluster of cameras.
In Jupiter, the parking lot outside the spa was still bustling with news trucks and camera crews by nightfall. Groups of three or four wandered toward the entrance for selfies.
A middle-aged man in a white Maserati drove slowly past and chanted, to no one in particular, “Let’s go Red Sox!” A few minutes later, a man in a Patriots hat and Tom Brady jersey had a female acquaintance snap a cellphone photo of him posing in front of the place.