We’ve reached the point of the Robert Kraft saga where the coverup reflects worse on him than the alleged crime.
The Patriots owner’s decision to obstinately fight two misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution at a seedy South Florida day spa, rejecting a plea deal, reeks of a rich guy trying to wriggle out of responsibility for his actions by any means necessary. It’s the Patriot Way meeting the American Way.
Kraft certainly has a constitutional right to plead not guilty and pursue the case in court. But he has to realize doing so comes at a cost to his carefully cultivated brand of probity, benevolence, and graciousness. It’s potentially winning the battle and losing the (public perception) war.
The harder and longer Kraft fights to clear his name in the legal system the more damage he subjects it to in the court of public opinion, providing constant reminders of the sordid details of his alleged conduct, which investigators captured on video. Twice in an 18-hour span in January, Kraft got caught red-handed in an embarrassing and compromising position at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla., by investigators monitoring a potential human trafficking operation. (Palm Beach County state attorney Dave Aronberg has made it clear that neither Kraft nor any of the other 24 men charged in the case are alleged to have engaged in human trafficking.)
Kraft can win his case on legal loopholes, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory. It won’t restore his reputation, which is what the 77-year-old Kraft really seeks. Kraft is used to winning in football and business. Sometimes the only chance to win is to let the other guys score some points. Sometimes there is more dignity in being a noble loser than a win-at-all-costs victor. This is one of those cases for Kraft.
It’s better to accept responsibility, beg for forgiveness, and promise to do better than to use your means and high-priced lawyers to escape accountability for your actions on legal technicalities. Outside of the Hub of Honks, few will find that tack sympathetic or savory.
It’s nearly as unseemly as going to a strip mall day spa to have a sex act performed hours before the AFC Championship game, as prosecutors allege Kraft did in the probable cause affidavits.
We all make mistakes, and Kraft’s lifetime of charitable deeds far outweigh a few lascivious lapses in judgment. The Patriots patriarch would find more understanding for his venial crimes if he owned up to them and moved on. Instead, his loaded legal team is going scorched earth, disparaging investigators to try to get the damning evidence against him tossed out.
Even if Kraft’s legal team is successful in suppressing the incriminating video in a trial on the grounds that proper procedure wasn’t followed, it doesn’t expunge the video from existence. It doesn’t simply disappear like former Patriots employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski. There is a difference between not guilty and innocent.
The embarrassing descriptions of what’s on the video are already in the public realm. Regardless of the verdict, if the video ever leaks Kraft is the biggest loser in this whole tawdry tale.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy, which states that the disposition of a criminal proceeding, including a plea deal, is grounds for punishment, could be a catalyst for Kraft’s motivation to be exonerated in a court of law, even though pursuing such an outcome continues to erode his public image. The league knows that this video exists depicting Kraft in flagrante delicto. It seems like a no-brainer for NFL investigators to ask for that video.
Now, Kraft’s lawyers are simply doing what good lawyers do. They’re turning the focus from their client’s guilt to potential flaws in the police work and the investigation. They’re digging a legal tunnel for Kraft to escape through.
But what’s interesting about Kraft’s defense is what isn’t being said to make his case. To legal laypeople, his whole defense seemingly rests on technicalities, procedural mistakes, and police overreach. Kraft pleaded not guilty as a means of triggering a trial. There’s not a case being built around Kraft not engaging in sexual activity at the spa, not being aware it was going to take place, and not handing over money afterward.
A defense based on those claims is dubious when investigators have Kraft going to the spa on back-to-back days. The one statement Kraft has issued on the matter, which featured a nebulous apology, also renders such a defense flimsy.
“I am truly sorry,” said Kraft. “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.”
The idea that Kraft is guilty and that the investigation didn’t follow proper protocol aren’t mutually exclusive in the real world, which is why Kraft won’t get the reputation restoration he seeks through a verdict.
Sometimes people with Kraft’s level of wealth (his net worth is estimated at $6.6 billion) can craft an existence where reality bends to them, a reality distortion field. You wonder what advice Kraft is receiving.
We’re talking about two misdemeanor charges. The maximum penalty is a year in jail (almost no one gets jail time), a mandatory $5,000 fine, 100 mandatory hours of community service, and a class on the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking.
If Kraft accepted the plea deal from the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office and got the case dismissed, he would have had to admit that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him in court. He would be required to perform community service, pay court fees, and attend the class.
Perhaps, a powerbroker such as Kraft feels he should roll the dice in court. But that doesn’t take into account dragging out the process and the debasing stigma of his alleged lechery.
It robs him of one of the key plays in the Patriots’ playbook, the ability to deflect a pratfall as being in the past.
All three principals of the Patriots dynasty now have scandals to their good names. Coach Bill Belichick had Spygate. Quarterback Tom Brady was ensnared in and eventually served a dubious suspension for Deflategate. Kraft has this case.
The other two were trumped-up football scandals where the Patriots’ go-to plays of fight to the bitter end; deny, deny, accuse; and look for a technicality to cast doubt were wise strategies in the court of public opinion. That’s not the case with this scandal.
It’s a losing game plan, even if Kraft wins the day in court.