Pats’ Kraft facing charges of soliciting prostitute

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.

The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.

Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.

Kraft has denied wrongdoing.

The potential charges come amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in Florida from Palm Beach to Orlando. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued in recent days as result of a six-month investigation, and more are expected. Ten spas have been closed, and several people charged with sex trafficking have been taken into custody.

Police said they secretly planted undercover cameras in targeted massage parlors and recorded the interactions between men and the female employees.

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

The NFL said it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”

The individuals named as having solicited prostitutes could be facing either a first- or second-degree misdemeanor for each count. A second-degree charge carries up to a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine; a first-degree charge carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Most people charged for the first time with soliciting a prostitute in Florida are allowed to enter a diversion program, said attorney David Weinstein, a former prosecutor. Kraft would have to perform 100 hours of community service and pay to attend an educational program about the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking.

Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was allegedly paying for sex inside a strip-mall massage parlor.

“We are as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said.

Kraft lives in Massachusetts and has a home in the Palm Beach area. He is a frequent guest of President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club. Though a Democrat, Kraft is friendly with Trump.

“Well it’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “He’s proclaimed his innocence, totally. But I’m very surprised to see it.”

Kraft’s wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.

Team owners are subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and owners and league employees are held to an even higher standard than players.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games in 2014 after he was arrested on drug charges. He was also fined $500,000.

Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the investigation, told reporters earlier this week that the prostitutes are victims who have been trapped into the trade.

“These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can’t leave, and they are performing sex acts,” Currey said, according to TCPalm. “Some of them may tell us they’re OK, but they’re not.”

Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, was a Patriots season-ticket holder when he purchased the team’s previous stadium in 1988, then used his leverage to buy the team for $172 million in 1994 to keep it from moving to St. Louis.

He hired Bill Belichick to be his coach in 2000, and the team subsequently drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching nearly two decades of success.

Under Kraft, who also owns Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, the Patriots have been the most successful team in pro sports, having made it to 10 Super Bowls, winning six, including this year against the Los Angeles Rams.

But there also have been issues involving team actions under Belichick.

In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming signals from New York Jets coaches; New England was suspected of doing so against other teams as well, and that was confirmed later on. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000 and stripped them of their 2008 first-round draft pick. Belichick was fined $500,000, the most an NFL coach ever was fined.

In the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the team — specifically Brady — was accused by the Colts of doctoring footballs.

The NFL concluded that Patriots employees were involved in deflating the footballs and Brady was “at least generally aware” it was being done. After lengthy legal battles, Brady served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season and the Patriots were fined $1 million — the heftiest for a team in league history. New England was stripped of a first-round and a fourth-round draft choice.

Neither Kraft nor Belichick was implicated after the investigation.

Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty told NBC Boston, which is with him on a goodwill trip to Puerto Rico, of the Kraft news: “When you see things come out like that you really have to just let it play out. See what it is, what it isn’t, and go from there.”

Information from ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, Mike Reiss and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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