Solicitation charge raises many questions about Robert Kraft’s future
Robert Kraft’s oceanfront getaway in the famed Breakers on Florida’s Gold Coast features a luxury spa that the property describes as “utterly exquisite.’’
But in the balmy days of mid-January, the Patriots owner opted to go elsewhere for treatments, according to police — a choice that now threatens to stain his name, spurred questions about the future of his influential role in the National Football League, and turned attention to the exploitation of women by international human traffickers.
Twice between Jan. 18 and Jan. 22, Kraft allegedly visited a run-of-the-mill massage parlor called the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in a seaside town of Jupiter, about 20 miles north of the Breakers in Palm Beach. On both visits, the 77-year-old billionaire allegedly solicited prostitution from female workers exploited by Chinese traffickers, according to Jupiter police
The son of a dressmaker in Boston’s Chinatown, Kraft on Saturday again maintained silence on the allegations, as prosecutors in Palm Beach County prepare an arrest warrant for him on two misdemeanor counts of soliciting another to commit prostitution.
His spokesman declined to add anything beyond the statement issued Friday that said, “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.’’
But behind the scenes Kraft faces one of his greatest personal challenges as he tries to protect his image as one of the most prominent business leaders in Boston, and a civic philanthropist with a long record of supporting causes to help downtrodden and disenfranchised even as he has amassed great wealth and fame.
In the years before he was identified by the Jupiter police as one of 25 men they had allegedly videotaped receiving sex from the exploited spa workers, Kraft contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars through his charitable foundations to projects aimed at curbing the sexual exploitation of children and supporting immigrants, low-income women, and needy children from Asia.
In 2015, the Patriots Charitable Foundation donated $100,000 to the Justice Resource Institute, with $50,000 earmarked for the institute’s My Life My Choice to expand its survivor mentoring program for commercially exploited children.
Now Kraft finds himself accused by law enforcement of contributing to the plight of abused immigrants by allegedly patronizing a business that exploited them.
Embarrassing details of his alleged visits to the spa may be forthcoming, as prosecutors are required to present evidence to show they have probable cause to issue an arrest warrant for him. The probable cause affidavit that authorities drew up for seeking a warrant for the spa’s owner leaves almost no detail uncovered of each man’s experience inside the massage parlor. Though the men are identified in the affidavit by number rather than name, officials have loudly stressed they have video of each of the men accused in the operation.
Jupiter police charged two women, including Hua Zhang, 58, the owner of Orchids of Asia, as ring leaders in the case. Authorities said the sex workers were lured to the United States from China with the promise of receiving legitimate jobs in the spa.
Instead, the women were all but confined to their workplace, where they ate, slept, and served as prostitutes for men ranging in age from teenagers to an octogenarian, according to the police. No further details about them, including their immigration status, were available.
Kraft is not alone in the imbroglio. Nearly 200 people have been charged so far in the prostitution operation. Notable among them is Kraft’s fellow billionaire, John W. Childs, who had lived near Kraft in Chestnut Hill, and maintains a home, north of Palm Beach.
Childs, who at 77 is two months older than Kraft, formed the private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates in Boston in 1995, a year after Kraft bought the Patriots. Both are particularly successful in highly competitive fields, each in charge of multibillion-dollar enterprises. They have also made their marks in national politics as major donors, with Kraft giving to candidates of both parties and Childs contributing almost entirely to Republicans.
Vero Beach police have obtained an arrest warrant for Childs on a charge of soliciting prostitution, according to Major Eric Flowers, a spokesman for the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.
Childs declined to comment. His attorney in Florida, Gary S. Betensky, said Childs has not been contacted by the police, “but we are making efforts to contact them to ascertain the nature of the accusation.” In a statement, Betensky added, “Mr. Childs stands by his position that he was not involved in any criminal activity and that the allegation is false.”
Seven other men with ties to New England have also been identified in the prostitution case. Among them is Henry Heinz, 76, of Block Island.
In a telephone interview from Sebastian, Florida, where he has been vacationing for decades, Heinz said he did not participate in any sexual activity when he visited a massage parlor in Sebastian for an hour-long massage session.
“I didn’t ask for sex, I didn’t have sex, and they didn’t charge me for sex,” Heinz said.
Heinz said that back in November he was in the parking lot of the Roseland Plaza shopping mall when he spotted a sign for a massage parlor. His back and legs were bothering him, and Heinz walked in to inquire about a massage, he said.
He said he returned on a different day and paid $50 in cash for an hour-long session. He said a woman in her 30s who appeared to be Chinese led him to a room, asked him to remove his clothes and lay on his stomach. She returned to the room a few minutes later, and spent a half-hour massaging Heinz before asking him to roll over, and she continued the massage, he said.
“It was a very good massage,” Heinz said, adding that he saw nothing to indicate prostitution was occurring in the Sebastian parlor.
“I don’t think you could get much sex for $50,” he said.
Other men charged in the case that Florida officials identified in the case with New England connections include Kevin Coyne, 40, and Tim McCoy, 55, both of Boston; Robert Ohlson, 67, of Athol; Carl Santheson, 52, of Plymouth; Carl Lagerstorm, 60, of Saco, Maine; and Lee McChesney, 84, of Pawlet, Vt.
Sex trafficking has drawn the attention of law enforcement for many years at major sports events, including the Super Bowl in Atlanta in February, when the Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams for their sixth Super Bowl title of Kraft’s tenure. In the week before the game, 33 people were charged with sex trafficking and four victims were rescued, federal officials announced at the time.
The problem has also caused concern among members of Kraft’s football team. Both Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy cited human sex trafficking as their personal causes during a fund-raising campaign last season in which they wore cleats inscribed with their charities. Slater represented the International Justice Mission and Guy supported the My Life My Choice initiative.
In Palm Beach, the Breakers has long been a magnet for the rich and famous, and Kraft and his late wife Myra, who died in 2011, were long members of the Palm Beach social circuit. In recent weeks, he has attended fund-raisers there for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Everglades Foundation.
Kraft has not remarried. He has dated the actress Ricki Lander, who gave birth to a baby in 2017. Kraft said he is not the child’s father.