Robert Kraft, chief executive officer and founder of Kraft Group is seen during an event. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Patriots Owner, Finance Titans Caught in Prostitution Sting

(Bloomberg) -- The New England Patriots’ billionaire owner and a pair of finance titans were accused of soliciting prostitution in Florida as part of sting operations that collected video evidence via body cameras.

The Patriots’ Robert Kraft was one of 25 men being charged in a probe that spans multiple agencies, according to the police department in the city of Jupiter. Police cited video evidence from inside the Orchids of Asia massage parlor, which they said Kraft visited at least two times.

“We’re as equally stunned as everyone else,” Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said, describing his reaction when he learned Kraft was involved.

The spa was one of a series of locations targeted across a swath of southeastern Florida as part of a broader investigation into alleged human-trafficking rings.

John Havens, Citigroup Inc.’s former president and chief operating officer, and John Childs, a buyout-firm pioneer, also were ensnared in prostitution charges Friday.

In addition to owning the Patriots, the 77-year-old Kraft is the money behind the New England Revolution Major League Soccer team and other businesses. He is worth $4.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Kraft’s wife, Myra, died in 2011.

A representative for Kraft denied that the billionaire engaged in any illegal activity, saying they would not comment further “because it is a judicial matter.”

Florida statutes describe a first offense of soliciting a prostitute as a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by as many as 60 days in jail and a fine. But the punishment can increase significantly for repeat offenders.

Jupiter police obtained body camera video of the sex acts, according to Andrew Sharp, the lead detective on the investigation. “The video that we obtained -- it shows the act that took place,” he said. “On every gentlemen you have on the list, the act is recorded on that video.”

Police Investigation

During the Jupiter Police Dept. investigation, it found evidence that workers appeared to be living inside the spa, including bedding, medicines and other personal items, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case against the establishment’s proprietor.

Investigators also used GPS tracking of the proprietor -- identified as Hua Zhang -- to establish her movements between the spa, her home and another such spa that had already been under police scrutiny. She has pleaded not guilty.

The affidavit also described in detail 26 different visits by men to the spa between Jan. 18 and Jan. 22, based on a warrant for video monitoring obtained Jan. 15. The alleged Johns are described as Males 1-26.

Suspects who are Palm Beach County residents will receive a summons in the mail to appear in court, Sharp said, while those residing outside the county will have an arrest warrant issued.

The sex spas typically charged about $59 a half-hour and $79 for an hour, Sharp said.

Frequent Visitor

Kraft is a friend of Donald Trump and frequent visitor to the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Patriots owner was in the area this past weekend, attending a fund-raiser for the Everglades Foundation.

When asked about the incident Friday, Trump said, “Well, it’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He’s proclaimed his innocence totally. But I’m very surprised to see it.”

Jupiter is about 30 minutes’ drive from Mar-a-Lago. Kraft also owns an apartment in Palm Beach.

A lifelong Patriots fan, Kraft had been a season ticket holder for 23 years before he purchased the football team in 1994 for $172 million. The team was successful in his first few years at the helm, but began its modern run in 2000 after hiring head coach Bill Belichick. The team has made the playoffs in 16 of the past 18 years, including nine Super Bowl appearances and six titles. The team is now worth $3.8 billion according to Forbes, second-most in the National Football League.

NFL Elite

Along the way, Kraft became one of the league’s most visible and powerful owners, alongside Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. He is on the league’s finance committee, and its compensation committee, which determines Commissioner Roger Goodell’s pay. He also chairs the media committee, the gatekeepers of the NFL’s billions of dollars in TV contracts.

The league said in a statement Friday that it’s “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”

Outside of the NFL, Kraft serves on the board of Apollo Global Management and was on the board of trustees at Carnegie Hall until the fall of last year.

He also serves on the board of the Engine, a venture capital accelerator. Fran Barros, an executive at the company, said they were “aware of the allegations and are monitoring the situation carefully.”

‘Totally False’

Childs, meanwhile, was among 165 people that were charged by Florida’s Vero Beach Police Department. He hasn’t been arrested.

“I have received no contact by the police department about this charge,” he said Friday in a phone interview. “The accusation of solicitation of prostitution is totally false. I have retained a lawyer.”

A man who answered a phone number listed for Havens said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” He then hung up and additional calls weren’t answered.

The State Attorney in Palm Beach County as well as Martin County are involved in the investigation, Kerr said.

“Obviously, our concern in this investigation centers around the victims of human trafficking,” he said. “We’re working with advocacy groups and interpreters to get as much support for them as we can.”

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