On the eve of the NFL owners meetings, Robert Kraft apologized Saturday for allegations that he solicited prostitution at a Florida massage parlor and pledged to try to restore his reputation amid fallout from the scandal.
“I am truly sorry,’’ the Patriots owner said in his first statement since last month, when he denied engaging in any illegal activity at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla. “I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans, and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard.”
Kraft, one of the NFL’s most influential owners, is expected to attend the league meetings in Phoenix, where he will face his peers and reporters for the first time since he was charged with twice paying for sexual services at the spa.
The question of whether he should be disciplined by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged transgressions is likely to be a pressing topic at the four-day gathering.
By issuing the statement Saturday, Kraft gives himself the option of refraining from commenting further to the media while he tries to repair harm to his reputation with Goodell and his fellow owners in Phoenix.
The NFL has struggled through the years to improve its image as allegations of domestic violence against players have raised concerns about the league’s respect for women.
“Throughout my life, I have always tried to do the right thing,’’ Kraft said. “The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect another human being. I have extraordinary respect for women; my morals and my soul were shaped by the most wonderful woman, the love of my life, who I was blessed to have as my partner for 50 years.’’
Kraft chose to break his month-long silence the day after one of his lawyers spoke publicly for the first time about defending him against two misdemeanor counts of soliciting another for prostitution.
Kraft is scheduled to be arraigned in a Palm Beach County court on Thursday, the day after the owners meetings conclude, although he is not expected to attend the hearing.
“In deference to the judicial process, I have remained silent these past several weeks,’’ Kraft said. “To correct some of the misinformation surrounding this matter, my attorney made his first public comments on Friday night.’’
The lawyer, William Burck, told ESPN that law enforcement authorities have falsely alleged that human trafficking was involved in Kraft’s case. Kraft is among more than 200 men and 10 spa operators who were charged after a months-long investigation of prostitution in massage parlors in four Florida counties.
“There was no human trafficking and law enforcement knows it,’’ Burck said.
Police said they used hidden surveillance cameras to videotape Kraft and many other defendants allegedly paying for sexual services at the spas. Many of the defendants, including Kraft, were pulled over after they left the massage parlors and asked for their identification.
“The video and the traffic stop were illegal and law enforcement just doesn’t want to admit it,” Burck said. “The state attorney needs to step up and do the right thing and investigate how the evidence in this case was obtained.”
Kraft and other defendants have asked a judge to issue a protective order to ensure that the videotapes remain private. But they appear to be facing a court fight.
“We’ve been surprised and disappointed that the state attorney did not sign on to the protective order, because it is a standard procedure in a criminal case,’’ Burck told the New York Post. “They declined to agree to the protective order.”
Earlier in the week, a spokesman for Dave Aronberg, the state attorney handling the cases, said he had offered to dismiss the charges against all 25 men accused of paying for sex at the Orchids of Asia spa if they agreed to several conditions, including admitting that they would have been found guilty at trial. Kraft refused the offer.
Now, while his legal team defends him in court, Kraft has begun appealing for forgiveness in the public arena. He indicated he will try to use his fame and fortune to restore his image.
“As I move forward, I hope to continue to use the platform with which I have been blessed to help others and to try to make a difference,’’ he said. “I expect to be judged not by my words, but by my actions. And through those actions, I hope to regain your confidence and respect.”
A friend said he expects Kraft to focus in particular on supporting victims of sexual exploitation.
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.