New England Patriots owner and part-time Palm Beach, Fla., resident Robert Kraft is one of 25 people facing charges of soliciting prostitutes as part of a series of human trafficking and prostitution arrests in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said Friday.
Police say they have video of Kraft, 77, paying for sex acts last month at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter. Investigators obtained a warrant Jan. 15 to set up cameras in the spa at the Jupiter Square shopping plaza and from Jan. 18 through Jan. 22 police captured 26 instances of men paying for sex acts at the spa.
The plaza is at Indiantown Road and U.S. 1., just southeast from Harbourside Place.
Records show the men spent between 30 minutes and an hour in the spa. Lead detective Andrew Sharp told reporters at a news conference Friday that the men paid according to how long they spent in the spa. An hour cost $70, he said.
“We’re as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said about Kraft’s involvement in the prostitution ring.
A spokesperson for Kraft said in a statement: “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
Kraft’s football team won its sixth Super Bowl this month.
The Patriots did not release a statement. The NFL also did not respond for comment but the NFL’s personal conduct policy states that “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 the Personal Conduct Policy occur. Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended six games in 2014 and fined $500,000 after being arrested on drug charges.
Police released the names of 25 men, of which Kraft is the most notable, against whom they have requested charges be filed. The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office will decide whether to proceed with the cases, including that of Kraft, a Massachusetts resident who long has had a residence in Palm Beach.
If the defendant has a physical address in Palm Beach County, he will receive a notice to appear, said Mike Edmondson, spokesman for the SAO. The offense is not subject to extradition, so an out-of-state resident such as Kraft would not be subject to arrest unless he returned to Florida.
The crimes are considered a second-degree misdemeanor for a first offense, carrying a jail term of up to 60 days, according to Florida statutes. A second offense is a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying prison time of up to one year. A third or subsequent offense is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Spa tied to international human-trafficking, authorities say
The sexual activity at the spa, sandwiched among a surf shop, a nail salon, a game room and a Thai restaurant, is believed to be tied to an international human-trafficking and prostitution ring extending to New York and to China.
Under state and federal law, human trafficking is defined as soliciting, recruiting, harboring, transporting or otherwise obtaining another person to exploit him or her for labor, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation. Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of cases reported to the national human-trafficking hotline.
“Our concern in this investigation centers around victims of human trafficking,” Kerr said, adding that authorities are working with advocacy groups and interpreters to gain information and help those who were trafficked.
Law enforcement announced the first arrests in their monthslong investigation into the ring on Tuesday at a news conference in Stuart. The owner and manager of Orchids of Asia Day Spa were arrested this week. Hua Zhang and Lei Wang face a slew of prostitution-related charges, including maintaining a house of ill fame and deriving profits from prostitution.
Records indicate that Zhang and Wang both participated in and took payment from sex acts done at the storefront business. Multiple other spa managers across Florida have been arrested in connection to the ring, and hundreds of men who visited the day spas are expected to face charges.
Both Zhang and Wang remained in custody Friday at the Palm Beach County Jail.
Thus far, authorities have arrested people in Palm Beach, Martin and Indian River counties.
Kraft’s ties to Palm Beach County
Kraft owns a double apartment at 1 N. Breakers Row in Palm Beach, a rental building owned by the Breakers resort.
He is said to be close to President Donald Trump. Kraft is often seen at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club on Pam Beach. He attended Trump’s wedding in 2009 and was a guest at a pre-inauguration dinner.
Kraft, in fact, was in Palm Beach as recently as Feb. 16, when he showed up for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gala. The center cared for his wife Myra before her death from cancer in 2011 at age 68. They had been married almost 50 years.
Later Saturday, Kraft attended the Everglades Foundation’s dinner dance at the Breakers, where he donated $100,000.
Kraft and Trump bonded over Myra’s death. Kraft was devastated by his wife’s death, and Trump and his wife Melania reached out to him, expressing concern for him and his family.
Kraft said Trump would call and check in with him “once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out. He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits. He was one of five or six people that were like that.”
Trump spoke about the death of Kraft’s wife and the effect it had on his friend to the Boston Globe in 2013.
“They had an amazing marriage, and Bob was devastated when she died,” Trump said. “He suffered greatly for a year, and he still suffers. But at some point, life has to go on, and it’s going on for Bob.”
Kraft is currently unmarried. He has been linked romantically in the past to actress Ricki Noel Lander.
Kraft was involved in a notable sale in Palm Beach in 2010.
A trust affiliated with him sold an oceanfront vacant lot at 947 N. Ocean Blvd. for a recorded $19.32 million. The trust had bought the vacant lot five years prior for $19.13 million.
Kraft not only owns the Patriots but the New England Revolution Major League Soccer team and is said by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $6.6 billion.
Kraft has become known for his philanthropy, donating more than $100 million to causes. He also was the recipient of the 2019 Genesis Prize from Israel. The annual award is given for professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values.
Unknown when Kraft visited the Jupiter spa
It is currently unknown when Kraft visited the Jupiter spa.
His team was in the playoffs from Jan. 15, when investigators obtained a warrant to set up cameras in the spa, until they won the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. The team had a two-week break, from Jan. 20 to Feb. 3 before the Super Bowl, played in Atlanta.
His coach, Bill Belicheck, has a home in the Jupiter area, as does former Patriots coach Bill Parcells, who coached for Kraft’s Patriots from 1993-96.
West Palm Beach attorney Valentin Rodriguez said he has handled prostitution defendants for years. He said the state’s top concern in most prostitution cases is not putting the johns in jail but providing them with AIDS awareness, which usually involves taking a mandated class.
The Kraft arrest may be trickier, though, he said.
“I always get deferred deals where the charges are dropped in exchange for something the defendant has to complete,” Rodriguez said.
“However, I think the real issue here is whether any of the defendants, including Kraft, knew of the underlying trafficking ring.”
If so, he said, the arrest “could raise the case to a different level, than just picking up a prostitute at the corner of Broadway and 45th.”
Palm Beach Post staff reporter John Pacenti and staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Check back later for more details.