NFL owner busted in prostitution sting
NEW England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being charged with misdemeanour solicitation of prostitution after twice being videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlour, police in Florida have said.
Jupiter police told reporters 77-year-old Kraft hadn't been arrested.
A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified. Kraft has denied wrongdoing.
Police said details about the charges against Kraft would not be released until next week.
The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking 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 parlours 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".
Kraft is one of the most prominent names in sports and his involvement may be just the tip of the iceberg, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
"There are people down there in that area, I'm told, who say that this story is going to heat up and get a lot worse," Schefter said on Sportscenter.
"I don't mean involving Robert Kraft. I'm talking about, with all the human trafficking that has gone on down there.
"I'm also told that Robert Kraft is not the biggest name involved down there in South Florida, and we'll see what police turn up in the report, but obviously there's a situation unfolding here that's disturbing on a number of levels."
The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta over the Los Angeles Rams, their sixth title in the past 18 seasons, making them the most successful team in pro sports during that span.
Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was paying for sex inside a strip-mall massage parlour, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.
"We are as equally stunned as everyone else," Kerr said.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, which would prosecute the case, had no comment.
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, he is friendly with Trump.
Kraft's wife Myra Hiatt died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.
The NFL did not immediately respond to a message on Friday, local time, seeking comment. Under league policy, players, owners, coaches and other employees can be punished for "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in" the NFL.
"Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of Personal Conduct Policy occur," the policy says.
Most people charged for the first time for soliciting a prostitute in Florida were 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 pay to attend an educational program about the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking, he said.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the investigation, told reporters earlier this week that the prostitutes were victims who had 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 say tell us they're OK, but they're not."
Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, was a Patriots season ticket owner when he purchased the team's previous stadium in 1988, then used his leverage to buy the team in 1994 for $172 million to keep if from moving to St. Louis.
He hired Bill Belichick to be his coach in 2000 and the team subsequently drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching their nearly two decades of success.