Robert Kraft: New England Patriots owner charged in sex sting

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Media caption,

Police in Jupiter said they had video of Mr Kraft "receiving the alleged acts"

The billionaire owner of the New England Patriots has been charged with soliciting prostitution in a Florida massage parlour, police say.

Robert Kraft, 77, is accused of two misdemeanour charges in Jupiter. He has denied the allegation.

The owner of the Super Bowl-winning franchise allegedly paid for sexual services at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in the beach resort, police said.

Mr Kraft's net worth is estimated at $6.6bn (£5bn).

The tycoon was snared as part of a human-trafficking sting operation in Jupiter about a month ago, said police.

Jupiter Police chief Daniel Kerr said at a press conference on Friday that the charges stem from "two different visits" to the spa, resulting in two counts of "soliciting another to commit prostitution".

A spokesperson for Mr Kraft said in a statement to the BBC: "We categorically deny that Mr Kraft engaged in any illegal activity.

"Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."

Image source, Google/Jupiter Police
Image caption,
A Google street image of the spa, owned by Hua Zhang (top right)

The NFL said it is "aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments".

What do we know about the investigation?

The spa was among 10 closed by authorities after a months-long investigation found women there were in "sexual servitude", according to charging documents.

A detective told that the alleged sex acts were captured on surveillance camera.

The Orchids of Asia website lists "a variety of massage modalities"- including Thai, Swedish and Japanese massage, facials and reflexology - offered in "private, quiet and clean rooms".

Police say the average cost of a one-hour visit to the spa is $79.

Mr Kerr said it was a surprise to learn the billionaire had attended the parlour, which is located in a row of shops beside a nail salon, a surf shop, a video-game store and a Thai restaurant.

"We are as equally stunned as everyone else," the police chief told reporters.

The spa's owner, Hua Zhang, 58, was arrested on Tuesday on various prostitution-related charges and is being held on a $278,000 bond.

Orchids of Asia manager Lei Wang was also arrested on Tuesday and made her first court appearance on Thursday.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Kraft with New England quarterback Tom Brady

The 39-year-old, who required a Mandarin interpreter in court, was deemed a flight risk and ordered to hand over her travel documents from China and the US, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Her bail was set at $256,000, and the judge noted she could only post bond by proving the money did not come from any illegal activities. The spa owner was issued the same conditions for her bond.

The two women are accused of operating the spa's trafficking and prostitution ring. Several men reportedly told police the spa manager was the one they paid for illicit services, according to the Post.

Warrants have been issued for over 170 people who were swept up in the dragnet, police say.

Twenty-five people will be charged with prostitution, according to police.

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Image source, Getty Images

Who is Robert Kraft?

He is the head of the Kraft Group, which has investments from sports to real estate.

Mr Kraft bought the Patriots for $172m in January 1994.

Under his 25 years of ownership the NFL team has played in 10 Super Bowls and won six championships.

He has four sons. His wife Myra died in 2011.

Since 2012, Mr Kraft has been in an on-and-off relationship with 39-year-old actress Ricki Lander.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Actress Ricki Lander and Mr Kraft have been together since 2012

A longtime friend of US President Donald Trump, he told the New York Daily News in 2017 how Mr Trump attended his wife's funeral.

"He called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out," Mr Kraft told the newspaper.

Mr Trump on Friday said the allegations were "very sad".

"I was very surprised to see it," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "He's proclaimed his innocence totally, but I'm very surprised to see it."

The NFL owner's friendship with Mr Trump, a Republican, has irked some fans in liberal Massachusetts, where the Patriots are based at Gillette Stadium.

A prolific philanthropist, he and his late wife have donated over $400m to various causes, according to his organisation.

in donations for various causes.Though a Democratic donor, he contributed $1m to Mr Trump's inaugural committee in 2016, according to federal election records.

Speaking to Fox News earlier this month, Mr Kraft said the president was "working very hard to serve the best interests of the country".