UPDATE: Robert Kraft has pleaded not guilty to charges of solicitation. His attorneys have asked for a bench trial, forgoing a jury.
Robert Kraft, the 77-year-old owner of the New England Patriots, has officially been charged with soliciting a woman in connection with prostitution, a first-degree misdemeanor, according to Dave Aronberg of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office. Kraft’s attorney has been issued with a summons to appear in court in April.
According to Aronberg, Kraft was arrested as part of an anti-sex trafficking investigation into a string of massage parlors in Florida. He faces two charges of soliciting sex from an employee at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, a massage parlor in Jupiter, Fla. The first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine and 100 hours of community service, including a mandatory course on the dangers of human trafficking.
Video surveillance footage allegedly shows Kraft engaging in a sex act with a worker at the massage parlor. Court documents distributed to reporters during the press conference also alleged that Kraft was present at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa on January 19th and 20th, which would have placed Kraft at the parlor mere hours before the Patriots’ AFC Championship game.
— Danielle Waugh (@DanielleWaughTV) February 25, 2019
Breaking: arrest report for Robert Kraft in sex sting pic.twitter.com/WGoDu8wX7Z
— Terri Parker (@wpbf_terri) February 25, 2019
Kraft, who is is worth $6 billion, is the owner of the New England Patriots, the wildly successful NFL franchise that recently won its sixth Super Bowl title in 18 years. Under the leadership of head coach Bill Belichick, the team has been barraged with accusations of cheating, culminating in the 2016 “Deflategate” scandal, which led to star quarterback Tom Brady being suspended for four games for allegedly using under-inflated footballs during games.
In a statement issued Friday, a spokesman for Kraft and the Patriots said: “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
As of now, it’s unclear whether the NFL will suspend Kraft on the grounds that his alleged behavior violates its personal conduct policy, which states that owners and managers can be disciplined for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.” In a statement released by the NFL on Monday, the league stated that it would “take appropriate action” against Kraft “as warranted based on the facts” of the criminal investigation.
A new NFL statement on #Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s allegations of soliciting prostitution says the league is seeking “a full understanding of the facts” while not interfering with an ongoing investigation. Here it is in full: pic.twitter.com/8x1XMgen6T
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 25, 2019
The Florida sex trafficking investigation is one of a string of recent anti-sex trafficking crackdowns nationwide, many of which have been targeted specifically at massage parlors. The eight-month Florida investigation has led to the closure of more than a dozen parlors.
Much of the discussion surrounding Kraft’s arrest has focused on whether or not the women employed at the parlor were trafficking victims or sex workers employed of their own volition. The Martin County police department has reported that many of the women appeared to be living in extremely cramped and unhygienic quarters at the salon. “We saw them eating on hot plates in the back,” Sheriff William D. Snyder of Martin County told the New York Times. “There were no washing machines. They were sleeping on the massage tables.” Other employees at the strip mall where the spa was located have reported that the female employees spoke little English.
In the press conference, Aronberg was clear that law enforcement viewed the women as “victims of human trafficking, which is modern-day slavery.”
“Human trafficking is based on force, fraud or coercion,” he said. “It is evil in our midst.”