Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution in Florida spa

by Samuel Abasi Posted on February 22nd, 2019

Jupiter, Florida: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with a Florida spa tied to an international human trafficking ring, police said Friday.

The NFL owner was charged with paying for sexual services at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.

The spa was among 10 shut down in Orlando, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast after a several-month investigation revealed women there were in “sexual servitude,” according to arrest records.

A detective said the acts were captured on surveillance video.

Kraft, 77, has not yet been arrested on the misdemeanor charges, according to the Jupiter Police Department.

“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” a spokesman for Kraft said in a statement. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”

Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994 for $172 million. He is the head of the Kraft Group, a holding company with investments in a number of industries, including sports and real estate. He is worth an estimated $6.6 billion, according to Forbes.com.

Kraft is a longtime seasonal resident of Palm Beach County.

Under Kraft’s ownership, the Patriots have played in 10 Super Bowls and have won a record-tying six Super Bowl titles, including their latest in February with a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

An investigation into the Jupiter spa began in October.

Women, many of them from China, lived in the spa and were not permitted to leave, according to Martin County Sheriff Will Snyder.

The owner of that spa, Hua Zhang, 58, of Winter Garden, was arrested and charged with deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution, keeping and frequenting a house of prostitution and 26 counts of procuring for prostitution.

The NFL on Friday released a statement about Kraft: “The NFL is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”

The Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft allegedly solicited sexual services in Jupiter, was one of 10 shut down in Florida across Orlando, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Arrest records say the investigation – which began in October – found women there in “sexual servitude.”

According to Florida statutes, a first offense can carry a jail sentence of up to 60 days, and a second offense can result in a sentence of up to one year.

Kraft could also face discipline from the NFL if the league determines he violated the personal conduct policy.

“It is a privilege to be part of the National Football League,” the policy states in the first paragraph. “Everyone who is part of the league must refrain from ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in’ the NFL. This includes owners, coaches, players, other team employees, game officials, and employees of the league office, NFL Films, NFL Network, or any other NFL business.”

The NFL will almost certainly defer to law enforcement as police continue to investigate, but expect the league, at some point, to launch its own review of the matter. And pending the outcome of that investigation, Kraft could face a hefty suspension and/or fine from the league office, if it determines that a violation occurred.

“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” a spokesman for Kraft said in a statement. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”

One sticking point in many of the league’s investigations has been the obtaining of evidence. Because the NFL does not hold subpoena powers, involved parties are not required to participate, and law enforcement offices do not need to share any of materials gathered from their investigations.

According to Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, however, Jupiter Police planted hidden cameras inside the spa and recorded 25 men allegedly receiving sex acts in exchange for money during the months-long sting operation.

“The question was ‘Does the video contain Mr. Kraft inside receiving the alleged acts?’ ” Snyder said. “The answer to that is yes.”

In multiple past cases – including the Ray Rice domestic violence case against his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in which he struck her inside an Atlantic City hotel elevator and dragged her out of it – the release of video of an incident ignited outcry and prompted the league to take action or issue a more stringent punishment.

The NFL initially gave Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back who was subsequently released by the team, a two-game suspension. But when TMZ published a second video that showed the assault taking place, many criticized the league for what was then considered a lenient punishment. The league said it had not seen the second video prior to issuing the two-game suspension and then announced it was suspending Rice indefinitely for the matter. An independent arbiter later ruled in favor of Rice and ordered the league to reinstate him immediately.

Most recently, video published in December by TMZ showing former Chiefs and current Browns running back Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a woman last February prompted the league to place Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list, preventing him from practicing or playing in games. The NFL announced it had initiated an investigation beginning in February 2018 into Hunt’s case, though it has yet to issue any ruling on his status.

Regardless of how the legal process plays out for Kraft, the league still could levy a punishment against him. According to the conduct policy, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.”

The policy also stipulates, “Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”

The last time an NFL owner was suspended for a violation of the personal conduct policy was in September 2014 when Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated on pain killers after an arrest in March 2014.

Police said the charges alleged against Kraft are part of a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in Palm Beach County that resulted in the shutting down of 10 spas in the area. According to Snyder, the victims – many of whom were from China – lived in the spa, were not allowed to leave, and were lured to the United States under the guise of having legitimate jobs awaiting them, only to be placed into “sexual servitude.”

Kraft, 77, had recently been celebrating New England’s victory in Super Bowl LIII, the team’s sixth championship under his tenure.

Image: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates a win against the Los Angeles Rams after NFL Super Bowl 53, Sunday, February 3, 2019 in Atlanta. The Patriots won 13-3.

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Samuel Abasi

Samuel Abasi

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