How much damage has Robert Kraft done to his reputation?
If Robert Kraft is only charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution, and isn’t connected to the human trafficking associated with the Jupiter, Fla., massage parlor, then the Patriots owner has a chance to resolve his legal troubles quickly and relatively painlessly.
The charges against Kraft, expected to be filed this coming week by the Florida state attorney’s office, will be second-degree misdemeanors. Technically, each count could cost him up to 60 days in jail, but “nobody ever goes to jail for a first offense of a second-degree misdemeanor,” said Valentin Rodriguez, a West Palm Beach, Fla., criminal defense attorney who says he has represented at least two dozen defendants facing solicitation charges.
Kraft won’t be extradited from Massachusetts, or even be required to appear at arraignment. Many first-time offenders end up paying a “couple hundred dollar” fine, Rodriguez said, agree to go to counseling or some sort of awareness course, and ultimately have the charges dropped. Sometimes the record is sealed.
“It’s in his interest to quickly make this go away,” said former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne. “I’m sure it will happen at arraignment, and I would expect he pays a $200 fine and gets out of there.”
The legal damage may be minimal, but the collateral damage that comes from Kraft’s involvement in a prostitution bust will be significant.
“The penalty really for this offense is the embarrassment that comes with it,” Rodriguez said.
Kraft will have to deal with the damage to his reputation. Via statement, Kraft denied that he “engaged in any illegal activity,” but he didn’t deny going to the spa.
Kraft has lost any ability to brag about the “Patriot Way” and his team’s commitment to morals and character. A generous benefactor and a popular man about town — attending Dana-Farber charity galas and palling around with rapper Meek Mill at NBA All-Star Weekend — Kraft now has been publicly shamed. We probably won’t see him pop up at the Oscars this weekend, and he probably won’t be holding court with reporters at the annual NFL owners’ meetings in late March, if he’s allowed to attend at all.
And Kraft will face significant fallout from the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell will almost certainly penalize him. Kraft could lose his standing among the owners and be stripped of important committee responsibilities. His Pro Football Hall of Fame résumé will take a hit.
As Goodell ominously told Colts owner Jim Irsay back in 2014, after Irsay was convicted of a misdemeanor, “owners, management personnel, and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players.”
Before going any further, we must state again that this all assumes that Kraft isn’t involved in the much more serious allegations of human trafficking related to the Jupiter massage parlor. Authorities have made no connections between Kraft and a trafficking ring they say stretches from China to New York and Florida.
Fortunately for Kraft, being a customer does not by itself make Kraft complicit in the trafficking, Rodriguez said.
“Being a customer is a crime, it’s a misdemeanor under Florida law, but that law doesn’t require you to know what the background is behind the operation,” he said.
If what happened on Friday is the extent of it, then Kraft is simply one of about 200 johns expected to be charged in this multi-county operation. As Martin County (Fla.) sheriff William Snyder told the Globe on Friday, “The story is not Bob Kraft. The story is that dozens of women in Southeast Florida along the Treasure Coast are living in rudimentary living conditions and being coerced into acts of sexual conduct.”
But just because Kraft will likely escape serious legal trouble doesn’t mean he’ll get off scot-free, even if the charges are eventually dropped.
He may have to attend a so-called “John School,” or take some sort of counseling. And the damage to his reputation and standing in the community won’t be easy to erase.
But the repercussions will be felt most seriously inside Kraft’s NFL world. The league’s personal conduct policy calls on Goodell to punish someone even if he isn’t found guilty by the courts. A suspension during the season seems likely, which would prevent Kraft from having any contact with his team or even being present at Gillette Stadium. Kraft also may have to stay away from the owners’ meetings in March and May, when a lot of important league business is conducted.
I don’t expect Kraft will be forced to sell the team or hand it off to his son, Jonathan, though it can’t be completely discounted. But Goodell has to come down hard on Kraft, with a lengthy suspension (at least six games) and large fine (the maximum is $500,000). Kraft’s arrest is another example of the NFL’s sometimes callous attitude toward women, in addition to its poor handling of domestic violence crises, a multitude of lawsuits from cheerleaders, and a sexual harassment case that forced former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to sell his team.
These charges will certainly hurt Kraft’s standing among his fellow owners. Kraft is a member of five committees, and they are big ones — he’s the chairman of the Media Committee, and he’s on the Finance Committee, the Compensation Committee (which determines Goodell’s pay), the NFL Network Committee, and the Management Council Executive Committee, putting him at the forefront of NFL labor negotiations.
Kraft is supposed to help lead the owners through another potential lockout in 2021 when the collective bargaining agreement is up, and he’s supposed to lead the negotiations with the TV networks when those contracts are up in 2022. But Kraft’s shine has been dulled, and we’ll see if he is allowed to keep all of his posts.
And while I don’t believe these charges will keep Kraft out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they certainly will delay his induction. Kraft, 77, badly wants to get into the Hall while he is still around to enjoy it, and his induction in the “Contributor” category was likely coming within a year or two.
The Hall of Fame’s bylaws state that “the only criteria for election . . . are a nominee’s achievements and contributions (positive or negative) as a player, a Coach or a Contributor in professional football,” which technically means Kraft’s arrest shouldn’t factor in. But, of course, it will.
“There’s going to have to be some time that would pass, I would assume,” one of the 48 voters told me on Saturday. “He’ll still probably get in at some point, but I can’t imagine he’d come up next year. Probably has to wait a few years now.”
One arrest doesn’t undo the decades of good will built by Kraft with the people of New England. And the legal system only views his alleged crime as a second-degree misdemeanor.
But Kraft’s reputation in the community and his standing inside the NFL takes a big hit. And he will have to deal with the collateral damage for a long time.