New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after police said Friday he was twice videotaped paying for and receiving sex at an illicit massage parlor.
The 77-year-old Jewish businessman was one of some 200 men charged in a human trafficking investigation in Martin County, Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr told reporters. Kerr said there is video evidence of all the men who are being charged.
Jupiter police said Kraft hasn’t been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified.
Kerr said he was shocked to learn that Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was paying for sex inside a shopping-center massage parlor, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. “We are as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the sex-trafficking 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’s wife Myra Hiatt died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.
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 did not immediately respond to a message Friday seeking comment.
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 probably have to perform 100 hours of community service and attend a course on the harmful effects of prostitution and sex trafficking, he said.
The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in the area surrounding Palm Beach County. About 200 arrest warrants have been issued in recent days and more are expected. Police said they secretly planted undercover cameras in targeted massage parlors and videotaped the interactions between men and the female employees.
Kraft, with a net worth of $6.6 billion, is the 79th richest American, according to Forbes. He is the chairman and CEO of Kraft Group, a holding company with assets in sports, manufacturing and real estate development. The Patriots, winner of this year’s Super Bowl, are among the most successful franchises in professional sports.
Over decades, the Kraft family has given more than half a billion dollars to causes including health care, education, the Jewish community, Christian organizations and local needs.
Kraft, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brookline, Massachusetts, was recently named the winner of the $1 million Genesis Prize, the so-called Jewish Nobel, for having “spoken out publicly and donated generously to organizations combating prejudices, including anti-Semitism and the de-legitimization of the State of Israel.”
“In keeping with the Genesis Prize tradition, Kraft has chosen to forgo the $1 million monetary award so that funds can be granted, in his honor, to initiatives combating anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice as well as attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel,” the foundation said.
One of his most distinctive philanthropic interests is the support of sports, particularly American football, in Israel. The artificial turf athletic field near the main entrance to Jerusalem, the Kraft Family Stadium, is a Kraft gift that’s used for soccer, baseball and American football games.
The prime minister of Israel was to have presented the prize to Kraft at an award ceremony in Jerusalem in June, two months after the elections on April 9.
Last year’s prize, which has been dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” was thrown into controversy when its winner, Israel-born actress Portman, refused to come to Jerusalem and receive the honor because it was to be presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.