South Florida

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is among the hundreds charged in Florida sex traffic sting

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a billionaire whose team has won six Super Bowls, was charged with soliciting sex at a $79 an hour day spa in Jupiter, part of a sweeping Florida sex trafficking sting that netted hundreds of johns over the past two weeks.

Kraft, 77, was charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution during two visits at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, according to the Jupiter Police Department. Police said they have video evidence of his visits.

Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said Kraft was spotted at the spa about a month ago and that he arrived in a chauffeur-driven vehicle. The two-week sweep netted hundreds of arrests, mostly throughout Martin, Palm Beach and Indian River counties.

Immediately after the charge against Kraft was announced, a spokesperson for the Patriots owner declared Kraft’s innocence.

“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further,” said the spokesperson, who asked not to be identified.

Jupiter police had been under fire the past several days as rumors with Kraft’s name surfaced. Though other jurisdictions involved in the sting, like Martin County, had released the names of those arrested, Jupiter withheld the names until a Friday morning news conference.

Kerr , the police chief, said other jurisdictions had been investigating the sex trafficking scheme longer than his department.

“Our state attorney had to go over this evidence with us this week,” Kerr said. “That’s the reason why it has taken us a little bit longer.”

Kraft, one of the most visible owners in the NFL and whose team has won six of the past 18 Super Bowls, including a January victory against over the Los Angeles Rams, is reported to be worth more than $3 billion.

He is the chairman and chief executive of the Kraft Group, a large holding company with interests in real estate, paper and packaging, sports and entertainment. He also owns Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution and Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play. He purchased the team in 1994 for $172 million from an heir of the Busch family.

The arrest could also get Kraft in trouble with the NFL, which in a statement said only that it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”

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,” the policy says.

As the league commissioner in 1999, Paul Tagliabue fined Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., who owned the San Francisco 49ers, $1 million and suspended him for a season after he pleaded guilty for failing to report a felony arising from a gambling fraud and extortion case. More recently, commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who has battled substance abuse, for six games and fined him $500,000 after he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.

Kraft owns a home in Palm Beach County and is a close friend of President Donald Trump, who tweeted his congratulations to the owner after the team’s most recent Super Bowl win. In a 2017 interview with the New York Daily News, Kraft said that Trump called him every week for a year after his wife passed away.

Questioned Friday by reporters about Kraft, the president said the Patriots owner has “proclaimed his innocence, totally. But I’m surprised to see it.”

Law enforcement agencies from Vero Beach to Orlando began making arrests this week in an international sex trafficking scheme that police say has connections between Florida, New York and China.

As of Friday, eight day spas between the Treasure Coast and Orlando have been closed. Hundreds of clients of the spas have been charged, including almost 300 in Indian River and Martin Counties. Twenty-five people were arrested in the Jupiter sting that included Kraft.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder told the Treasure Coast News that many of the women involved in the sex acts came to the United States from China on temporary visas.

“They were cooking on the back steps of the business,” Snyder told the newspaper. “They were sleeping in the massage parlor, on the massage tables.”

Also arrested earlier this week were Hua Zhang, 58, who owns Orchids Day Spa, and Ruimei Li, 48 and Lixia Zhu, 48. Zhang was charged with profiting from prostitution, running a prostitution ring and 26 counts of procuring prostitution. Li and Zhu were charged with similar crimes and several counts of racketeering and money laundering.

The announcement of Kraft’s arrest and of the sex-trafficking busts and detail come on the heels of an award-winning Miami Herald series written by staff writer Julie Brown and called Perversion of Justice.

In the series, Brown outlined how a wealthy Florida businessman named Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused and trafficked under-aged girls for years.

It also told of how federal prosecutors worked out a quiet deal with Epstein to avoid much jail time and how many of the abused girls were kept out of the loop, unaware a deal had even been reached.

Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero and Miami Herald wire services contributed to this report.

Chuck Rabin, writing news stories for the Miami Herald for the past three decades, covers cops and crime. Before that he covered the halls of government for Miami-Dade and the city of Miami. He’s covered hurricanes, the 2000 presidential election and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. On a random note: Long before those assignments, Chuck was pepper-sprayed covering the disturbances in Miami the morning Elián Gonzalez was whisked away by federal authorities.