Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, was charged in Florida with soliciting prostitution after he was captured on video engaging in sex acts with a worker at a massage parlor, police said on Friday.
Kraft, 77, a billionaire businessman who built the Patriots into the National Football League's most dominant franchise, was swept up in a broader police sting targeting sex-trafficking in day spas and massage parlors in several Florida counties. The operation has led to hundreds being charged.
Kraft, who lives in Massachusetts but owns property in Palm Beach, Florida, is accused of visiting Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, on two separate occasions to solicit sex. The two charges he faces are misdemeanors.
Authorities have video evidence depicting the acts in question after installing hidden cameras inside the spa, police officials said.
A spokesman for Kraft and the Patriots, Aaron Salkin, said in a statement, "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."
Kraft could face discipline under the league's personal conduct policy, which applies to team owners and prohibits "conduct detrimental to the integrity" of the NFL. In 2004, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended six games and fined $500,000 after he pleaded guilty to driving while on drugs.
In a statement, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, "The NFL is aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments."
Kraft, who made his fortune buying out and building up his father-in-law's product-packaging business, is worth $6.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
His wife of many decades, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011 of ovarian cancer. He has not remarried.
The investigation's lead detective, Andrew Sharp, told reporters that he could not speak to the specifics of any individual's financial transactions, but that in general, services at the spa cost $59 for a half hour and $79 for an hour.
The Orchids of Asia Day Spa was rated three stars on the crowd-sourced review website Yelp.com, where some customers praised the service provider for its masseuses. Others complained about receiving poor massages and being bullied into giving high tips.
One reviewer in 2015 said they recommended the spa to a male friend, who was offered a "happy ending."
"This is NOT the town to act like this and it's a family area," the user wrote on the website. "I'm reporting you to the board and I pray you get shut down!"
The spa's website advertises body treatments, facials and massages, such as the "Tokyo Ultimate 4 Hand."
Since Kraft bought the Patriots 25 years ago, the team has become the most successful franchise in the National Football League, appearing in 10 Super Bowls and winning six titles, including Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.
Kraft's influence in the football world has grown steadily since he purchased the Patriots, to the point that he is widely considered one of the NFL's most powerful and influential owners.
Kraft has become a hero to may Bostonians. Early this month hundreds of thousands of people lined the city's streets to see the owner and his team celebrate their sixth Super Bowl win.
Some top Massachusetts officials on Friday voiced deep concern over the charges.
Governor Charles Baker "finds these allegations deeply disturbing and condemns all acts of sexual exploitation," Anisha Chakrabarti, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email.
Kraft is a close friend and supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican. Before this month's Super Bowl, Trump said on "Face the Nation" that he would be backing his longtime friend Kraft to win.
In 1994, Kraft, a Boston native, bought the Patriots for $172 million, considered a lofty sum for a team that had been mired in mediocrity for years.
The team is now worth nearly $4 billion, thanks in large part to its extraordinary success on the field under the leadership of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida and Jonathan Allen, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York; writing by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Grant McCool)