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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor.
Jupiter, Fla., Police Chief Daniel Kerr said at a news conference Friday that the 77-year-old billionaire is among many people charged in a sweeping, multi-agency investigation of prostitution and human trafficking at several massage parlors.
Kerr added there is video evidence of customers, including Kraft, involved in sex acts.
A Kraft spokesman said in a statement that they "categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."
Kraft is the most high-profile figure ensnared in the case so far. At the news conference, reporter Michael Williams of WPTV in West Palm Beach asked, in apparent surprise, whether the "Robert Kraft" on a list of defendants circulated by police is, in fact, "Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots."
Kerr confirmed that it is and said, "We're as equally stunned as everybody else."
Kerr said the charges against Kraft stemmed from separate visits to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter "approximately a month ago," a period that could fall between the Patriots' AFC Championship win on Jan. 20 and the team's Super Bowl victory on Feb. 3.
Kerr said the Florida state attorney would issue a warrant for Kraft's arrest.
Jupiter police detective Andrew Sharp said Kraft was driven to and from the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. Kraft owns an apartment in Palm Beach, according to the Palm Beach Post, roughly a half an hour's drive from the massage parlor.
Asked at the news conference whether patronizing the spa appeared to be "a regular event" for Kraft, Sharp said, "I would say, going through the evidence, yes."
Kraft's alleged crime stands in stark contrast to his image as a champion of women's causes. In 2015, Kraft joined Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey at a news conference and said that he and the Patriots had pledged $1.5 million to combat sexual and domestic violence.
"When you think about all the women in our lives — mothers, grandmothers, wives, aunts, sisters, daughters, girlfriends — it doesn't seem possible that, on average, 1 in 3 women have faced some type of abuse in a relationship," Kraft said at the time.
Kraft's commitment included a $500,000 donation from the Patriots Foundation to Jane Doe Inc., a Boston nonprofit that works to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence. Executive Director Debra Robbin said Friday that the group is "very disappointed with the headlines about Robert Kraft, although we do recognize that this is still in an investigative stage."
Robbin said money from the Patriots Foundation has funded important work over the past four years.
"Allegations against one individual, no matter how prominent, shouldn't undermine the support of the Patriots organization for work done on behalf of survivors," she said.
Kraft has helped fund medical research since his wife, Myra, died of ovarian cancer in 2011. A $20 million endowment supports the Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator at Harvard Business School.
In recent years, the Patriots have treated breast cancer survivors to a "day of pampering" at Gillette Stadium, an event that includes manicures, yoga and massages.
In a statement, the NFL said it is "aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments."
The league's personal conduct policy explicitly prohibits "sex offenses" and says, "Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the personal conduct policy occur."
President Trump, a friend of Kraft's, told reporters the charges against Kraft are "very sad."
"I was very surprised to see it," the president said. "He's proclaimed his innocence totally and — but I'm very surprised to see it."
In a police report, Sharp said he opened an investigation of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in October, after receiving a tip from the Martin County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office, which was pursuing "several cases of prostitution and possible human trafficking at Asian massage parlors."
In the course of surveilling Orchids of Asia, Sharp reported, he interviewed four men who said they had paid for sex acts at the parlor. Police then obtained a warrant to place video cameras inside the parlor. Over five days in January, cameras recorded 26 men paying for sex acts, according to Sharp's report.
The men are assigned numbers in the report and not identified by name. Some paid $79 for hourlong sessions, and others offered tips, according to the report.
With reporting from The Associated Press
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