New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and other men accused of soliciting prostitution in a Florida massage parlor are expected to be charged by prosecutors as soon as Monday afternoon, a spokesman for the state attorney in Palm Beach County said Sunday.
The solicitation charges that ensnared Kraft and nearly 200 other men stem from a sweeping, monthslong law enforcement probe of massage parlors where defendants sought sexual services from women who were allegedly victims of an international human trafficking ring, officials said.
Nine men with New England ties, including Kraft and billionaire John W. Childs, are accused of soliciting prostitution from women working at those parlors, officials said.
Police in Jupiter, Fla., said Kraft visited Orchids of Asia Day Spa twice between Jan. 18 and Jan. 22 and solicited prostitution from female workers. He was one of 25 men videotaped by Jupiter police in the act of receiving sexual services, according to police.
Kraft faces two counts of solicitation of prostitution, and a warrant will be issued for his arrest, police said. The Jupiter cases have been handed over to State Attorney Dave Aronberg, said Michael B. Edmondson, an agency spokesman, in a phone interview Sunday.
“Formal filing decisions will be made later Monday or early Tuesday,” Edmondson said.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Kraft declined to comment on the case beyond the statement he had issued Friday: “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.’’
Kraft spent part of the weekend in California attending parties ahead of the Oscars on Sunday, celebrity news outlets TMZ and Page Six reported. Kraft has also been seeking local legal representation in Florida, according to an official with knowledge of the case.
In Vero Beach, police last week announced solicitation charges against 165 defendants, including Childs, the founder of the private equity firm JW Childs of Waltham. His Florida attorney, Gary S. Betensky, told the Globe Saturday that Childs “was not involved in any criminal activity and that the allegation is false.”
Other local defendants include Kevin Coyne, 40, and Tim McCoy, 55, both of Boston; Robert Ohlson, 67, of Athol; Carl Santheson, 52, of Plymouth; Henry Heinz, 76, of Block Island, R.I.; Carl Lagerstorm, 60, of Saco, Maine; and Lee McChesney, 84, of Pawlet, Vt.
Heinz told the Globe Saturday that he did not engage in any sexual activity when he visited a parlor in Sebastian, Fla.
McChesney’s son, Scott, said his father learned of the prostitution charge from a Globe story Sunday.
McChesney runs Lee D. McChesney Real Estate in Pawlet, Vt. Scott McChesney said his father denies the charge, and the allegation discredits his name.
“We have spoken to our father. He is a legitimate businessman who went in to get a massage,” he said. “I think he has gotten caught in the crossfire here.”
Investigators were not surprised to find prominent men caught up in the probe, as some of them traveled to the parlors in limousines, according to an official with knowledge of the case. The case against the men is the result of an eight-month investigation, the official said.
Apparently none of the trafficked women involved in the Florida cases spoke English, the official said.
The official said he did not believe any of the defendants will be charged with a felony unless they knowingly participated in human trafficking.
Advocates for survivors of human trafficking said the law enforcement approach in the Florida cases is part of a trend in which women who are trafficked and forced to perform sex acts are treated as victims rather than as criminals, as they often were in the past.
“This case in Florida is really reflective of a new paradigm of how law enforcement is tackling these places,” said Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-trafficking organization. “Instead of making the women the target of the investigation, they went up the food chain.”
Myles said sex trafficking organizations are often giant international operations with complex systems of recruiters, operators, drivers, money launderers, and other workers who keep them going.
There are 9,000 or more illicit massage businesses run by traffickers in the United States, he said, and almost all operate using a well-established business model to safeguard against detection and ensure a consistent experience for customers.
“They have very time-tested standardization — just like Starbucks tries to make sure that your experience at a Starbucks across the country is always consistent,” he said.
A storefront massage parlor like Orchids of Asia, he said, is the tip of the proverbial iceberg: the visible fraction of a large, complex criminal enterprise that exists mostly out of sight — until an investigation reveals more of its structure.
“They hope that no one takes them that seriously, so that they can kind of mask the fact that this is quite sophisticated organized crime happening behind the scenes,” Myles said. “I think that this case could lead to multiple additional cases.”
Bringing down an entire trafficking operation is unlikely, he warned, because in most cases the organization is so large and well hidden that it can simply set up at another storefront.
“They anticipate that these raids are . . . part of the cost of doing business, so they’re ready for that,” Myles said.
Edmondson, the state attorney spokesman, said the defendants will have the option of surrendering to law enforcement or having a lawyer contact the state attorney to initiate the court process.
Those who live outside Florida may never see the inside of a courtroom, though there will be warrants awaiting them if they return to the state.
“If you’re not in the state of Florida, you’re not going to be extraditable here for a misdemeanor offense,” Edmondson said, adding that he could not discuss the specifics of individual cases.
If a defendant encountered police during a traffic stop, for example, that could lead to an arrest, he said.
After they are charged, defendants then have the option of pleading guilty or going to trial. They will not be required to register as sex offenders for a misdemeanor charge if they are convicted or accept a plea deal, he said.
First-time offenders are unlikely to spend any time behind bars, Edmondson said.
It’s possible in Florida to enter a plea agreement without appearing in court, he said, but both the state attorney’s office and the judge in the case must agree to allow it.
“It’s not done very often,” Edmondson said.
Under normal circumstances, a defendant whose first offense was a misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution would typically not face a conviction, said Glenn Palaia, an attorney who worked for three years as a public defender in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit.
Instead, a court would withhold adjudication against a defendant if they didn’t contest the charge, said Palaia, who now works in private practice.