Florida prosecutors have offered to drop prostitution solicitation charges against 25 men, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, if they admit they would have been proven guilty at trial, authorities said Tuesday.
Michael B. Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office, said the proposed deal was standard for first-time misdemeanor offenders. The men were charged last month as part of a sweeping investigation into illicit sexual services at massage parlors, which authorities say was part of a human trafficking operation.
Kraft is charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla., in January.
Under the proposed agreement, known as deferred prosecution, Kraft and the other defendants would be required to perform 100 hours of community service, pay court fees, and attend a course about the social harm caused by prostitution and human trafficking. In exchange, defendants can have their cases dismissed and records expunged if they avoid any further brushes with the law for a fixed amount of time.
If Kraft does not accept the offer, prosecutors plan to take the case to trial, Edmondson said. Kraft has not decided whether to accept the deal, according to a person familiar with his legal strategy who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Kraft, through a spokesman, has maintained that he did not engage in criminal activity. Not-guilty pleas have been entered by Kraft’s Florida lawyer, Jack Goldberger.
Terms of the proposed deal were first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The next court date in the case involving Kraft is March 28, according to court records.
None of the men offered the deal, including Kraft, has been charged with human trafficking.
The person familiar with his legal strategy said Kraft would be required to appear in a Palm Beach courthouse to resolve the case. Asked if Kraft would have to appear in court, Edmondson said “that’s a defense question.”
Jordan Wagner, a defense attorney who represents at least 15 clients who face charges in the wider Florida sex trafficking sweep that prompted the closure of multiple massage parlors, said offers of deferred prosecutions are not unusual for first-time offenders in Palm Beach County.
Yet two provisions were out of the ordinary, he said. Under the deal, defendants would have to provide a sworn statement detailing their knowledge of illicit activity at the day spa in question, and they would have to accept responsibility for their actions and agree that if the case was to go to trial, the state “would be able to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Those two things are not typical,” said Wagner.
Wagner declined to say whether his client or clients had decided to accept the offer.
“I can’t talk about that,” he said.
Michelle S. Jacobs, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said the parameters of the deal were “totally and completely common.”
“The men just get deferred,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The women they solicit end up with a criminal conviction usually.”
Eric M. Matheny, a Florida defense lawyer who is not involved in the case, called the offer to Kraft “100 percent standard.”
“Bob Kraft is being treated no better and no worse than any similarly situated defendant,” he said.
Matheny said he would advise defendants to accept the offer.
“In my experience, when you have a guaranteed dismissal or a 50-50 shot at trial, I think it is malpractice in nearly all cases for attorneys not to convince their client to take the pretrial diversion,” he said.
“Juries do things that you could not imagine,” he added.
Lisa L. Thompson, vice president of policy and research at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an advocacy group that works to combat all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, said first-time offenders in sex-buying cases should face more serious penalties across the country.
“If this is the typical deal, then we have a problem with what the standard practice is,” she said.
Thompson’s group drafted a letter sent to the National Football League on Tuesday saying Kraft should be banished from the league if the allegations against him are proven.
Edmondson said prosecutors made the offer to each of the defendants nabbed in a January sting at the spa. They were notified by mail Monday.
The investigation by Jupiter police was part of a larger inquiry by Florida law enforcement into human trafficking in that region and has led to charges against some 200 men who allegedly visited spas in three counties.
Jupiter police secretly installed a video camera in the spa and authorities said in court papers that Kraft was captured on video entering the spa, having a sex act performed on him, and then leaving the spa. According to court records, Kraft, 77, allegedly paid for an encounter on Jan. 19 and again on Jan. 20, just hours before his team won the AFC Championship game.