On Tuesday, William Snyder, the sheriff of Martin County in South Florida, announced the uncovering of what he described as a human trafficking ring linked to illegal sex work at several day spas across the area. He promised that there would be a “newsmaker” among the clients who received paid sexual acts at these businesses.
We now know that newsmaker—or, at the least, the newsmaker we know of so far—is Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The 77-year-old, who purchased the team in 1994, has been charged with two counts of solicitation of prostitution, police in Jupiter, Fla. announced on Friday.
Police said they have video evidence of Kraft, and the 24 other men also facing charges, engaging in illegal sex acts at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which is located in a strip mall less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. A spokesperson for Kraft said in a statement “we categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity,” but declined further comment because of the ongoing legal matter.
Much more is yet to be revealed in the coming days and weeks, but 24 hours after Kraft’s name was released—drawing far more attention to a human trafficking case than we almost certainly would have seen otherwise—here’s a primer on where things stand.
What do we know about the case?
Last July, a detective at the Martin County Sheriff’s Office responded to a complaint from the health department about conditions at a local day spa that suggested intentional human trafficking. There was evidence that employees were living there 24 hours a day, cooking on the back steps and sleeping on the massage tables. That launched an investigation that spread to a cluster of day spas across the area that were determined through bank accounts and other surveillance techniques to be linked—including Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
Their investigation indicated that employees of these spas came to the United States from China seeking jobs as maids or restaurant workers, in some cases bringing their children along, Snyder said. Instead, they ended up trapped as sex workers serving as many as 1,500 male clients a year, with no days off, no means of transportation and hygiene that was described as minimal at best. Because of these conditions, authorities decided to pursue this as a human-trafficking case, not simply prostitution.
Multiple women identified as the managers of these spas, or the “madams,” have been charged with crimes including racketeering and maintaining a place of prostitution. Authorities are also working to identify the women who have potentially been trafficked, with Snyder saying their goal is to treat them as victims rather than paid sex workers. The Martin County Sheriff’s Office earlier this week provided 13 Mandarin-speaking interpreters for employees of the day spas, and as of Tuesday, Snyder said two so far seemed willing to cooperate with their investigation.
What is Kraft’s alleged involvement?
Kraft has been identified by police as one of the clients, or “johns,” receiving illegal sex acts at a business connected with this trafficking ring. Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which Kraft allegedly visited in Jupiter, had been under police surveillance since November. At this particular spa, police discovered beds, dressers containing medicines and other personal items and refrigerators with food and condiments—all consistent with people living there. Trash pulls revealed spreadsheets with client information and napkins containing semen. The spa advertised a variety of services, but police observed only male clients visiting.
During a five-day period in late January, which included the day the Patriots defeated the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, police recorded visual but non-audio surveillance from inside the massage rooms at Orchids of Asia. This surveillance captured on camera 26 instances of men receiving sexual acts at the day spa during their massage appointments.
The men entered the day spa, paid by cash or credit card at the front desk and then were taken to a room where they disrobed and laid on the massage table naked. The 26 incidents detailed in a police affidavit describe these men then receiving sexual acts from female spa employees who used their hand or mouth to stimulate the client’s genitalia until he reached climax; they then cleaned him up with a towel. Per the affidavit, a few clients also touched or stimulated the female employee, but there was no mention of vaginal intercourse—though in a couple of the incidents, the affidavit mentioned the lights in the room went out for several minutes and the client could not be seen during that time. Massage appointments at the spa cost $59 for 30 minutes and $79 for an hour; most of the clients who were recorded receiving a sex act offered an additional cash tip or payment at the end of their appointment, per police.
Jupiter police said they have video evidence of two different visits Kraft made to Orchids of Asia. The incidents in the affidavit are numbered Male 1 through 26, but the police did not disclose which number (or numbers) they tied to Kraft or any of the 25 people who they are charging for soliciting prostitution. The surveillance period stretched from Friday, Jan. 18 through Tuesday, Jan. 22, with appointments ranging from mid-morning to midnight.
What are the potential consequences for Kraft?
Despite the police saying they have video of Kraft inside the parlor, he issued a categorical denial of any illegal activity. We do not know what his defense will be at this time, but options include him saying that the person the police say they have on camera is not actually him, or that their footage does not prove he engaged in illegal behavior.
NFL Network reported that the warrant for Kraft’s arrest is expected to be issued on Monday. In Florida, a first offense for prostitution is charged as a second-degree misdemeanor, for which each count (Kraft is being charged with two counts) can be punished by a prison term up to 60 days, a fine up to $500 or both.
As for Kraft’s status in the NFL, the league’s personal conduct policy includes owners. Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. Last year, after a Sports Illustrated investigation revealed sexual harassment and workplace misconduct by former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, he was fined $2.75 million and sold the team. Depending on how this case unfolds, and what we learn about Kraft’s alleged link to an international sex trafficking ring, it’s possible that he could face pressure to transfer control of the team to his son, Jonathan.
The one thing for certain is that this case isn’t going anywhere—and while Kraft may be just one of the many tentacles that authorities described, it's one that will hook this case, and this issue, in the national conversation.
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