Police charged Robert Kraft and 24 other men as part of a sting into an alleged Florida human trafficking operation
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was in a Florida massage parlor accused of human trafficking on the morning of the AFC Championship game in Kansas City, when the Patriots earned a trip to the Super Bowl, the prosecutor of his case confirmed at a Monday press conference.
According to a notice to appear in court obtained by PEOPLE, Kraft allegedly was seem on police surveillance camera set up inside the parlor paying money for sex acts the afternoon of Jan. 19 and the morning of Jan. 20. — the latter of which was the day of the game.
Dave Aronberg, State Attorney for Palm Beach County, stated that Kraft will be mailed a summons to appear in court rather than arrested and booked into jail because he is a part-time resident of Palm Beach County.
Kraft’s arraignment is set for April 24 but he does not have to make a public court appearance under the terms of the summons, said Aronberg.
At the press conference, Aronberg addressed rumors that the investigation might lead to a more prominent person than Kraft.
“That would be news to me. It’s hard for me to talk about rumors, especially false ones,” he said.
Police announced on Friday that Kraft had been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with a human trafficking sting tied to a chain of Florida massage parlors. The crackdown connected to the day spas initially was revealed Tuesday by authorities and has led to the arrest of individuals in Palm Beach, Martin and Indian River counties, the Palm Beach Post reported.
The allegations stem from two separate visits by Kraft last month to the storefront Orchids of Asia Day Spa, and are based on sex encounters that were caught on video, police in Jupiter, Florida, said at a news conference.
A spokesperson for the 77-year-old billionaire denied that Kraft had participated in any “illegal activity” after the allegations surfaced.
“We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” a representative for Kraft said in a statement provided to PEOPLE. “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
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The solicitation charge faced by Kraft and another 24 men accused in the case is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and required attendance in a class on the “dangers or prostitution and human trafficking,” said Aronberg.
Authorities also charged two women accused of being proprietors of the spa operations, reports the Palm Beach Post.
Lei Wang, 39, of Hobe Sound, who told a state inspector that she managed the Jupiter spa, was arrested last week on charges that include maintaining a house of ill fame and depriving profits from prostitution. She is being held in the Palm Beach County jail on a $256,000 bond. Hua Zhang, 58, of Winter Garden, is Orchids of Asia’s owner and is being held in the Palm Beach County Jail on $278,000 bond.
It was not immediately known if either women had retained an attorney to address the allegations on their behalf.
Police said the arrests and release of the spa’s alleged client list resulted after authorities placed surveillance cameras inside the business.
Investigation of activities at the spa began last October, with police conducting visual surveillance that found a solely male clientele entering and exiting with most customers inside for less than an hour, reports WCVB.
A subsequent Florida Department of Health inspection reported to authorities that “it appeared as though the female employees were living there as there were two rooms with beds, including sheets and pillows,” according to the outlet.
“Our concern in this investigation centers around victims of human trafficking,” Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr told reporters, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
At Monday’s press conference, Aronberg assailed the evils of human trafficking, which he called “modern day slavery,” saying that the case wasn’t about prosecuting “lonely old men.”
“This is about enabling a network of criminals to traffic women into our country for forced labor and sex,” Aronberg said.
Kraft has been seen partying at sports events and hanging with rappers since the Patriots trounced the Los Angeles Rams to win the team’s sixth Super Bowl on Feb. 3, adding to his reputation as one of the most famous owners in sports.
Bloomberg lists Kraft at a net worth of $4.36 billion, which makes him the 419th richest person in the world. Kraft made his rise by buying out and expanding his father-in-law’s product-packaging business, and today, The Kraft Group owns five different packaging operations. According to its website, these operations convert and trade four million tons of paper annually.
Though he is a lifelong Democrat and even donated to both of Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns, Kraft has defended President Donald Trump and remains close friends with the controversial political figure. Kraft opened up about their friendship in a New York Daily News interview in 2017, recalling Trump’s kindness in the weeks after Kraft’s wife of 50 years, Myra, died of ovarian cancer at age 68 in July 2011.
“He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits,” said Kraft. “He was one of five or six people that were like that. I remember that.”
In a statement released to PEOPLE through its media office, the National Football League said: “The NFL is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.” The Patriots organization declined Friday to release any statement beyond Kraft’s denial of involvement.