JUPITER, Fla. – Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, faces charges of soliciting a prostitute after he was twice videotaped in a sex act at a shopping-center massage parlor in Florida, police said Friday.
Kraft, 77, denied any wrongdoing. The case comes amid a crackdown on sex trafficking from Palm Beach to Orlando in which police planted cameras in massage parlors.
Kraft was not arrested. Jupiter police said a warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified. They said details about the misdemeanor charges will be released next week.
Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued in recent days as a result of the six-month investigation. Ten spas have been closed, and several people have been arrested on sex trafficking charges.
Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn that Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was paying for sex inside a shopping-center massage parlor, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. "We are as equally stunned as everyone else," Kerr said.
Most people charged for the first time with 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 attend a course on the harmful effects of prostitution and sex trafficking, he said.
The arrest could also get Kraft in trouble with the NFL, which in a statement said only that it is "aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments."
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," the policy says.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl this month over the Los Angeles Rams for their sixth NFL championship in the past 18 seasons, making them the most successful team in pro sports during that span.
Kraft, whose wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011, lives in Massachusetts and has a home in the Palm Beach area. Though he is a Democrat, he is friendly with President Donald Trump and a frequent guest at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.
"Well it's very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence, totally," Trump said at the White House on Friday.
In a statement, Kraft's representatives said they "categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity."
The spa Kraft allegedly visited is in a busy, upper-middle-class shopping center with neighbors that include a dentist, a real estate office, surf and bike shops and a Publix supermarket.
The spa's owner, 58-year-old Hua Zhang, was arrested Tuesday on 29 prostitution and related charges. Police in her arrest report said they watched video of her employees performing various sex acts with two dozen customers.
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.