Robert Kraft refuses to accept plea deal to drop solicitation charges

Kraft and many of the other men are unwilling to admit guilt because they believe that police mishandled aspects of the case.

Robert Kraft
Robert Kraft. –Doug Mills / The New York Times

Talks have broken down between Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and prosecutors in Florida, who have offered to drop the misdemeanor charges against him if he will admit that he would have been found guilty at trial on charges of soliciting prostitution.

Kraft and prosecutors have been negotiating over the terms of an agreement since Tuesday, when the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County offered the deal to him and 24 other men who were similarly accused of soliciting prostitution at a massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida, called the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.

But Kraft and many of the other men are unwilling to admit guilt because they believe that police mishandled aspects of the case. They contend that a search warrant was improperly obtained to install secret cameras inside the massage parlor that police say includes video of Kraft and the other men soliciting sex. The pretext for that warrant was predicated on the existence of human trafficking at that massage parlor, something the police have not yet proved.

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“We have looked into it, we’ve looked at the charges brought, looked at the evidence, and there is zero evidence of human trafficking,” said William Burck, one of Kraft’s attorneys. Kraft is “being defamed and smeared by anyone who says he’s involved in human trafficking.”

Michael Edmondson, a spokesman for the state attorney in Palm Beach County, said it would not “be appropriate to comment on an open case.”

Kraft, by far the most well-known defendant in the group, pleaded not guilty to two first-degree misdemeanor charges at the end of February. The prosecutors said Kraft, who is accused as a first-time offender, was unlikely to face jail time in this case.

On Tuesday, the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County offered Kraft and the 24 other accused men a chance to have the charges dropped if they agreed to do 100 hours of community service, take a class on the dangers of prostitution, get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and pay a fine.

But the men would also have to agree that if the case had gone to trial, the prosecutors would have won. This would force them to effectively admit guilt even though they have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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Burck said Kraft should not have to say he is guilty in the case because the premise of the search warrant is flawed, and police improperly stopped the vehicle Kraft was a passenger in after he left the massage parlor.

“If there was human trafficking, these men would face more than misdemeanors,” he said. “Our view is that the state attorney’s job is to uphold the law, and we think he should be scrutinizing how the search warrant was obtained and traffic stop was done, and explain to us why we’re wrong” to object.

Burck said he is still in discussions with the state attorney about his offer, but declined to be more specific. Kraft and the other men can continue negotiating with prosecutors, who may make a counteroffer. Kraft is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.

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On Wednesday, lawyers for Kraft and 15 other men filed a motion with the court in Palm Beach County to keep private all the evidence obtained by the police in the case. This includes hidden camera video of Kraft and the men inside the massage parlor over several days in late January.

In their filing, the lawyers said the evidence should remain confidential. The lawyers suggested that they do not believe that sex trafficking took place at the massage parlor.

Burck said the state attorney has not agreed to keep the evidence private.

“We don’t know why they wouldn’t want to protect the evidence in the case,” he said. “The images on the video would clearly be of a private nature” and the only reason to make them public would be if “the goal is to embarrass the person on the video.”

Legal experts who handle prostitution cases in Florida said most defendants ultimately accept the prosecutor’s offer because the cost of fighting their cases are not worth the trouble.

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But Kraft may be more concerned that essentially pleading guilty to soliciting prostitution will harm his reputation as an NFL owner, businessman and philanthropist. Kraft might also be penalized by the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has broad authority to issue fines and suspensions for anyone who damages the league’s brand. The penalties, if any, could be based on the outcome of Kraft’s legal case in Florida.

If the state attorney does not amend his offer, Kraft could seek a nonjury trial. That would open him up to more scrutiny, but it would also give him a forum to question how evidence was gathered in the investigation.

According to affidavits released in the case, police persuaded a judge to allow them to install hidden video cameras because they were investigating whether a sex trafficking ring was operating in about 10 massage parlors in Florida.

Dave Aronberg, state attorney in Palm Beach County, said last month that there was no evidence that Kraft and the other men were involved in sex trafficking.

“There is no allegation that any of the defendants were involved with human trafficking; they are not being charged as such,” Aronberg said Feb. 25.

Yet the investigation into sex trafficking remains ongoing.

Lawyers familiar with prostitution cases have questioned why police in Jupiter, if they were investigating sex trafficking, waited months to shut down the Orchids of Asia spa after they suspected that the women working inside might be at risk.

They have also questioned why police, who had been investigating the massage parlor since October, needed to install video cameras there in late January, when Kraft allegedly was twice caught on tape getting massages. Those video cameras may have violated the privacy rights of customers who were not accused of soliciting prostitution.

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