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Football New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft offered plea deal in prostitution case

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft walks along the sideline before a game against the Lions in Detroit on Sept. 23, 2018.

Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press

Florida prosecutors have offered a plea deal to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and other men charged with paying for illicit sex at a massage parlour.

The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday it has offered Kraft and 24 other men charged with soliciting prostitution the standard diversion program offered to first-time offenders. The men must concede they would be found guilty, perform 100 hours community service and attend a class on prostitution’s dangers and how it perpetuates human trafficking, spokesman Mike Edmondon said. They must also pay a court fee of $5,000 per count. Kraft, 77, was charged with two counts last month.

In return, the charges of misdemeanour soliciting prostitution would be dropped. Edmondson said none have accepted so far. By accepting, the men might also avoid having to appear in court, Edmondson said. That would be negotiated.

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Kraft’s attorney Jack Goldberger did not immediately return a call seeking comment, and Patriots spokesman Stacey James refused comment. If Kraft refuses the deal, he would be put on trial and, if found guilty, face a possible year in jail, although that would be unlikely. He has pleaded not guilty.

Golfer Tiger Woods entered a similar diversion program in 2017 when he was charged in Palm Beach County with driving under the influence. He appeared in court to accept the deal.

Kraft’s deal offer was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Kraft is one of about 300 men charged in multiple counties between Palm Beach and Orlando as part of a crackdown on illicit massage parlours and human trafficking. Ten parlours have been closed and employees have also been charged. Many of the women are originally from China, were forced to live in the spas and were not allowed to leave without an escort, according to investigators.

The owner of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, the Jupiter, Florida, parlour Kraft is accused of visiting, is charged with 29 felony prostitution and related charges. Authorities investigated the 10 parlours for months, gathering evidence through interviews with men stopped leaving the spas, trash bin searches and surveillance of the spa owners. Judges then issued warrants allowing them to secretly install cameras inside the spas to record what transpired.

Police said they have video of Hua Zhang’s employees performing various sex acts with two dozen customers. Zhang, 58, has pleaded not guilty.

Sheriff William Snyder of neighbouring Martin County spearheaded the massage parlour crackdown. He said in a recent interview with The Associated Press the traditional route of only charging parlour owners and their employees while ignoring their customers doesn’t work. He said the only way massage parlour prostitution and its related human trafficking will be curtailed is to charge the men, too.

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“As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply – and I was stunned by the amount of demand,” he said.

Police say Kraft visited Orchids of Asia twice in late January just before he flew to Kansas City to see the Patriots defeat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

According to police records, Kraft was chauffeured to the massage parlour in a 2014 white Bentley on the evening of Jan. 19, where officers say they secretly videotaped him engaging in a sex act and then handing over an undetermined amount of cash.

Investigators said Kraft returned 17 hours later, arriving at the upper-middle class shopping centre where the spa was located in a chauffeured 2015 blue Bentley, the documents said. Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was videotaped engaging in sex acts before paying with a $100 bill and another bill, police said. Hours later, he was in Kansas City for the game. His team then won the Super Bowl in Atlanta, the Patriots’ sixth NFL championship under his ownership.

The NFL has not taken any action against Kraft but has said its personal conduct policy “applies equally to everyone in the NFL” and it will handle “this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the policy.” Kraft’s wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.

Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, bought the Patriots in 1994 for $172 million to keep the team from moving to St. Louis. He hired Bill Belichick as coach in 2000, and the team later drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching its nearly two decades of success.

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