Patriots owner visited brothel hours before AFC game
Robert Kraft has been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged with two counts of soliciting sex from a prostitute in early 2019. He was said to have visited a spa called Orchids of Asia in Jupiter, Florida. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times
Three weeks and a day after he watched his team win its sixth Super Bowl championship, Robert Kraft was formally charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution.
Kraft, who lives in Massachusetts but has owned property in Palm Beach, Florida, for a number of years, was one of 25 men caught in a sting operation at a spa called Orchids of Asia, a small storefront business in a strip mall in Jupiter.
On Friday, Jupiter police filed two second-degree charges against Kraft, but State Attorney Dave Aronberg of Palm Beach County increased the severity of the charges to two first-degree misdemeanours. If convicted, Kraft could face up to a year in jail, a $5,000 (€4,400) fine and 100 hours of community service, Aronberg said. He added that it was unlikely a first-time offender would spend time in jail.
“Human trafficking is evil in our midst,” Aronberg said. “It is fuelled on the demand side.”
The charges are the latest crisis for the Patriots and Kraft, who is one of the NFL’s most powerful owners, a trustee emeritus and long-time benefactor of Columbia University and a friend of US president Trump’s. Aronberg made it clear that Kraft would not receive special treatment because of his prominence.
“Our office treats everyone the same, whether you have a lot of money or are indigent,” Aronberg said. “No one gets special treatment in Palm Beach County.”
The NFL, which will have to consider a punishment for Kraft, released a statement expressing the same sentiment on Monday morning.
“Our Personal Conduct Policy applies equally to everyone in the NFL,” the unsigned league statement read. “We will handle this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the policy. We are seeking a full understanding of the facts, while ensuring that we do not interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation. We will take appropriate action as warranted based on the facts.”
Through the Patriots, Kraft has denied engaging in illegal activity. A team spokesman said on Monday that the Patriots would not comment on the new charges.
Aronberg said that because Mr. Kraft was considered a local resident, he had received a summons in the post. He will not be booked into the local jail or appear in a mug shot. His lawyer can appear on his behalf in court.
Details of the case against Kraft emerged on Monday through an affidavit, which described his two visits to the spa that were caught on video.
According to the affidavit, one of Kraft’s visits occurred in the late afternoon of January 19th, a Saturday. He arrived in a 2014 white, chauffeur-driven Bentley, and he was wearing a blue shirt and ball cap, the affidavit said. He spent about 40 minutes at the spa, during which time he undressed and laid on his back on a massage table as a woman massaged his genitals.
As Kraft left the spa, the police followed the car, pulling it over in what was described as a traffic stop, and identified the owner of the Patriots.
The next day, hours before the start of the AFC championship game (against the Kansas City Chiefs), Kraft arrived at the spa just before 11am. He entered the room and hugged a masseuse. Once again, a woman was observed with her hands on his genitals, according to the affidavit, and then she was seen placing her head close to his pelvic area. The woman helped him get dressed. Kraft hugged her and gave her a $100 note and another, unidentifiable form of currency. He was on his way 14 minutes after he arrived.
Kraft later traveled to Kansas City, where he watched the Patriots defeat the Chiefs to earn their third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
“This is not about lonely old men or victimless crime,” Aronberg said. “This is about enabling a network of criminals to traffic women into our country for forced labour and sex.”
On Friday, the Jupiter police announced the charges, the result of an investigation into human trafficking that involved multiple agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. None of the men charged in the sting have been accused of being involved with human trafficking.
Kraft is a member of the league’s powerful broadcast committee, as well as the compensation committee, which sets Commissioner Roger Goodell’s salary. Goodell, who has striven to convince fans that the NFL is a female-friendly organisation after several high-profile incidents of domestic violence involving players, now could be in a position to fine or suspend Kraft for his conduct.
The NFL gives Goodell broad authority to hold players and owners accountable for conduct he deems detrimental to the league. Previous punishments have included fines and suspensions, but also prohibitions that have barred owners from being at their team facilities or from attending games.
The NFL maintains a “reserve/commissioner exempt list” for players who are being investigated by the league for conduct violations. This is the list that Kareem Hunt, the former Kansas City Chiefs running back, landed on after video emerged of him pushing and kicking a woman. (The Chiefs cut him shortly after the video became public and the league put Hunt on the exempt list; Hunt signed with the Cleveland Browns this month, though he has not yet been cleared to play.)
Players on the exempt list cannot practice or attend games, but they continue to be paid. It is not clear whether Goodell would suspend an owner pending the outcome of an investigation.
Goodell is hired and paid by the owners, making his decision on potential discipline for Kraft a tricky one.
Kraft and Goodell had been considered long-time allies. Their relationship was strained, however, by two earlier punishments for the Patriots: when Goodell disciplined the franchise for spying on other teams in 2007, and when he penalised the team and quarterback Tom Brady in a case that began in 2015 about deflating footballs for a competitive advantage.
The team came under larger scrutiny when one of its players, Aaron Hernandez, was charged with first-degree murder. He was convicted in 2015, and he killed himself in his cell in 2017.
- New York Times