Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, has been charged in a sprawling human-trafficking and prostitution investigation in Florida, authorities announced Friday.
Kraft, 77, is charged with two counts of soliciting another to commit prostitution, which stem from two separate visits to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, Police Chief Daniel Kerr said. Authorities said a video obtained as evidence shows the Patriots owner in a sex act at the spa.
The charges are part of a larger crackdown on massage parlors in South Florida that police say were used for human trafficking and prostitution.
On Wednesday, a group of Florida law enforcement agencies held a press conference announcing that arrest warrants had been issued for 171 people on charges including human trafficking, racketeering, and prostitution. As of Wednesday, 45 people had been arrested.
“We’ve got small business owners, we’ve got individuals that are involved in the religious community, we’ve got former law enforcement,” Police Chief David Currey of Vero Beach, Florida, added. “From my understanding there are a few deacons.”
Sources have told ESPN that Kraft is “not the biggest name involved (in this investigation.)”
Billionaire John Childs, the founder of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates, was reportedly among those charged with solicitation of prostitution. Childs, 77, has owned a home in Vero Beach for more than a decade, according to public records. He has not been arrested.
“I have received no contact by the police department about this charge,” he told Bloomberg on Friday. “The accusation of solicitation of prostitution is totally false. I have retained a lawyer.”
Kraft is one of the 100 richest people in America, according to the Forbes 400 list, with a net worth of $6.6 billion. Since the businessman purchased the Patriots, it has been the most successful team in the National Football League, winning six Super Bowls, led by quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
Kraft has dated actress Ricki Noel Lander, who is 39 years his junior, since 2012. He is a close friend of President Trump’s, and a frequent visitor to Trump’s Florida estate Mar-a-Lago.
The months-long investigation involves massage parlors and spas in West Palm Beach used for paid sex, according to law enforcement officials. The men who ran these parlors allegedly lured young women with the promise of legitimate work, then pressured them into prostitution.
“Through our investigation, and I can only speak for Vero Beach, very little protection was used during these sex acts. Very little protection... so shame on the Johns,” Police Chief Currey said.
The women involved in the ring, many of whom are considered victims, were given no days off, averaging about 1,500 men a year, according to Martin County, Florida, Sheriff William Snyder. Their hygiene was “minimal” at best, Snyder said.
Two victims had been identified at the time of the press conference, but law enforcement said they believe more will surface as the investigation continues.
A walkthrough of one of the parlors revealed that the establishment was a victim’s “primary living quarters,” police said. According to Currey, a small room was set up for the women with food and rudimentary showers.
The alleged sex acts occurred in massage parlor rooms located off of a narrow hallway.
“There were two to three rooms that were being utilized for... I'll tell you folks, there were very, very little massages going on,” Currey said.
The women, many of whom are from China, were recruited through advertisements for legitimate masseuses.
“They are answering ads but they think it’s legitimate and when they get there it’s not,” Currey said. “There’s intimidation, it’s a country they’re not used to... they’re stuck and they’re truly victims.”
Currey said law enforcement utilized “electronic surveillance devices” as well as on-site surveillance in order to identify the suspects entering and exiting the parlors. “We were able to identify them going in, them inside, them coming out then driving away. License tags, that kind of information,” Currey added.
In a statement from his spokesperson, Kraft denied any wrongdoing.
“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” the spokesman said Friday. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
The NFL released a statement Friday saying they are “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”