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Football Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged in Florida prostitution bust

Robert Kraft, owner and CEO of the New England Patriots, attends a press conference on Feb. 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being charged with misdemeanour solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlour, police in Florida said Friday.

Jupiter police told reporters the 77-year-old Kraft hasn’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 will not be released until next week.

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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.”

The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta over the Los Angeles Rams, their sixth in the past 18 seasons, making them the most successful team in pro sports during that span. In four other seasons, they made the Super Bowl.

Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn Kraft, who is worth US$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 Friday 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 are 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 are victims who have been trapped into the trade.

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“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 okay, 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 US$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.

But there also have been issues involving team actions under Belichick.

In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming signals from New York Jets coaches; New England was suspected of doing so against other teams, as well, and that was confirmed later on. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots US$250,000 and stripped them of their 2008 first-round draft pick. Belichick was fined US$500,000, the most an NFL coach ever was fined.

In the 2014 AFC championship game, the team – specifically Brady – was accused by the Indianapolis Colts of doctoring footballs.

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The NFL concluded that Patriots employees were involved in deflating the footballs and Brady was “at least generally aware” it was being done. After lengthy legal battles, Brady served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season and the Patriots were fined US$1 million – the heftiest for a team in league history. New England was stripped of a first-round and a fourth-round draft choice.

Neither Kraft nor Belichick were implicated after the investigation.

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