Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Denies Accusation He Solicited Prostitution at Fla. Massage Parlor
Police announced the charge against Robert Kraft and 24 other men as part of a sting into an alleged Florida human trafficking operation
Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, has been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with a human trafficking sting tied to a chain of Florida massage parlors, police announced Friday.
Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr confirmed the charge in a news conference.
The allegations stem from two separate visits by Kraft, 77, to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which has been identified as part of an alleged human trafficking and prostitution network, reports the Palm Beach Post.
Police said the visits by Kraft to the spa occurred last month.
A spokesman for Kraft tells PEOPLE: “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
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.”
Kerr said there is video evidence of Kraft and 24 other men who are being charged with solicitation, reports West Palm Beach TV station WPTV.
“We are as deeply stunned as anyone else,” he said when asked to comment on Kraft’s involvement, according to the outlet.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Asked if any individuals more prominent than Kraft — locally or otherwise — were among those men who have been charged so far, the police chief said no. However, police said the investigation into the alleged solicitation and human trafficking is ongoing and that more arrests are possible.
The crackdown connected to the day spa was first announced Tuesday by authorities, and has led to the arrest of individuals in Palm Beach, Martin and Indian River counties, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Kraft, a frequent visitor to President Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, has long had a part-time home in the affluent community, reports the Palm Beach Daily News.
Police alleged they had evidence that Kraft had been driven to the storefront spa in Jupiter, and that they had obtained video of employees performing sex acts on him on at least two occasions.
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.
Those charged in the investigation include 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 Tuesday 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.
The decision whether to proceed with the prosecution of Kraft and the other men rests with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office. If pursued, the solicitation charge would be a second-degree misdemeanor for a first offense, with a jail term of up 60 days; a second offense is first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one year in prison according to Florida statutes.
“Our concern in this investigation centers around victims of human trafficking,” Kerr said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
Earlier this month the New England Patriots under Kraft’s ownership celebrated their sixth Super Bowl victory.
The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy — which applies to owners as well as players, coaches and other team personnel — specifically states that sex offenses are considered a violation of the league’s standards of conduct. “When the league becomes aware of conduct that may violate the policy,” it states, “it will undertake an investigation.”
• with reporting by CHARLOTTE TRIGGS