Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with a human trafficking sting tied to a chain of Florida massage parlors
Even with the NFL season over, the Super Bowl LIII champion New England Patriots are still making headlines.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was 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. The crackdown connected to the day spas was first announced Tuesday by authorities and has led to the arrest of individuals in Palm Beach, Martin and Indian River counties, the Palm Beach Post reported.
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.”
The decision whether to proceed with the prosecution of Kraft and the other individuals 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.
Kraft has been seen partying at sports events and hanging with rappers since the Patriots trounced the Los Angeles Rams for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3, adding to his reputation as one of the most famous owners in sports.
Here are the top things to know about the billionaire businessman.
1. Kraft Is Worth $4.36 Billion
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.
“Think big. Make it a wildly improbable dream that motivates you, one that wakes you up in the morning ready to attack your day, to persevere and persist until you accomplish it,” Kraft told students at Yeshiva University in a 2016 commencement speech. “Dream a big dream, a bold dream. Don’t play conservatively between the 40-yard lines. Don’t just play it safe.”
2. He Bought the Patriots in 1994 and Made It the NFL’s Premiere Team
Kraft isn’t only a football fan, but he also used to carry the pigskin when he was a running back and safety at Columbia University. Kraft has reportedly been a Patriots season ticket holder since 1971, and owned a race track right next to the team’s stadium. As the Patriots’ former owner, Billy Sullivan, started experiencing financial trouble from bad investments — famously including an investment in The Jackson Five’s “Victory Tour” in 1984 — Kraft set himself up to buy the stadium in 1988 for $22 million, according to Forbes.
When ownership of the team changed hands from Sullivan to another buyer, Kraft waited for his chance to outright purchase the team for $172 million in 1994 as the new owner grew tired of keeping the team in New England. Kraft reportedly still keeps a “Victory Tour” poster to remind him of the steps it took for him to finally own his favorite team. Under his stewardship, the Patriots have won six NFL championships under coach Bill Belichick and famed-quarterback Tom Brady.
3. His Wife of 50 Years Died of Cancer
Kraft met Myra Hiatt at a delicatessen in Boston back in 1962. The two married and had four sons throughout their decades-long union. Myra died of ovarian cancer at age 68 in July 2011. Throughout the following season, the Patriots wore Myra’s initials “MHK” on their uniforms.
Kraft started dating actress Ricki Lander, 39, a year later.
4. Kraft’s Girlfriend Is Nearly 30 Years Younger Than Him, and It Was Speculated Her Baby Was His
It was revealed in March 2018 that Kraft’s 39-year-old girlfriend, Lander, gave birth to a baby in fall 2017. Kraft has been dating Lander for seven years, and although he said he was “thrilled” for the baby’s birth at the time, he denied that he’s the biological father of the child.
A spokesperson for Kraft told PEOPLE in a statement, “Last fall, Ricki Noel Lander became the proud mother of a beautiful, healthy baby. While Robert Kraft is not the biological father, he is thrilled with Ricki’s blessing of having a healthy child. With respect to her family’s privacy, we will not be commenting any further.”
Kraft has been mum over the years about his relationship with Lander, and has referred to her as his “pal” on several occasions.
5. He Is Close Friends with President Trump
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 his wife passed.
“When Myra died, Melania and Donald came up to the funeral in our synagogue, then they came for memorial week to visit with me,” Kraft said. “Then he called me 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. I remember that.”
Kraft gifted President Trump his own Super Bowl ring with his name engraved on it when the Patriots won the NFL championship in 2017.
6. He Once Gave Tom Brady a MAGA Hat — Which Put the QB in Hot Water
Kraft and Trump have long been friendly before the latter ran for president, so when The Apprentice host started his campaign, he sent his pal one of his infamous red Make American Great Again hats. When Brady was seen with one of the caps in his locker in 2015, he later explained to WEEI that Trump sent it to Kraft, who then gave it to him.
“[Trump] sent it to me via R.K.K.,” Brady said, referring to Kraft. “He always gives me a call and different types of motivational speeches at different times. So now that he’s running for president, he sent me a hat, and he gave it to R.K.K. a couple weeks ago. So it found its way to my locker.”
Brady was slammed by critics for showing support for Trump, and even actor Daniel Radcliffe called him out for it before Super Bowl LIII when explaining why he was hoping the Patriots would lose.
7. He Is Good Friends With Rapper Meek Mill and Parties With Celebrities
While most sports owners may remain behind the scenes, Kraft seems to love to be front and center. He regularly attends sports events, like Boston Celtics games or, most recently, the NBA All-Star game, where he wore a flashy diamond necklace — which read “Champions” — given to him by Meek Mill.
Kraft also wasn’t shy about dancing on stage with Cardi B at a Super Bowl LIII party in Atlanta, as seen in the video above.
8. Vladimir Putin Reportedly Has One of Kraft’s Super Bowl Rings
As detailed by Sports Illustrated, while on a business trip to Russia in 2005, Kraft met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kraft reportedly showed off his Super Bowl XXXIX ring, earned off a fresh Patriots victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and even handed it to Putin to try it on. Putin liked the 124-diamond ring so much, he never gave it back.
“[The Super Bowl rings] are all in a drawer except for my third one,” Kraft told reporters in response to the story. “The original is in Russia with the president of the country. I happened to be there on a business mission with my friend Sandy Weill. We had just given out our rings. I showed Sandy my ring, and he said, ‘Why don’t you show it to the president?’ And I showed it to him and he put it on, and he sort of just enjoyed it, so he kept it on.”
According to a 2013 CNN report, Kraft’s storied ring was put on display at the Kremlin’s library.