Imagine for a moment you are Robert Kraft, the owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, a man known for his philanthropy, considered a patriarchal figure in the league for most of the last quarter century.
What would you do if you were charged with two misdemeanors related to soliciting prostitutes in Florida, with surveillance video allegedly proving your complicity, and a prosecutor offered to dismiss charges if you admitted your guilt?
Would you take your chances, stand by your innocent plea and fight the charge in court or would you beg for the forgiveness of your friends, family and league by confessing?
This is the decision Kraft, 77, now has to make.
Kraft is one of 24 men, all first-time offenders, caught up in a wide-ranging solicitation sting in Florida in February. The spa Kraft chose in Jupiter is a place where trafficked sex workers were basically held against their will and forced to submit.
Instead of taking everyone to court, the prosecutor’s office announced on Tuesday it had offered the men the opportunity to review the accumulated evidence and publicly admit they would be found guilty. If they did so, the charges would be dropped.
After the charges were filed, Kraft immediately pleaded not guilty and his attorneys asked for a bench trial. This was after a Patriots statement denied any involvement in illegal activity.
As of Wednesday morning, there was no indication about which way Kraft would go.
A spokesman for a state’s attorney in Florida told USA Today there is “a requirement for either an admission of guilt or an acknowledgement that the state could prevail at trial for the pretrial diversion to go forward.”
This move by the prosecution is considered highly unusual, certainly in terms of making a public admission of guilt a requisite part of a plea bargain. But you can understand why this might be considered necessary.
The prosecutors are trying to upend the illegal and immoral practice of holding destitute and/or indebted women for the purpose of providing sex.
One of the best ways is by doing something to embarrass those who frequent these establishments. Getting these men, including Kraft and other billionaires, to essentially embarrass themselves is a pretty good away to dissuade others from trying it.
An attorney for several of the men charged said no timetable has been established for a decision. He also told USA Today lawyers are talking to the state about a way to take the admission of guilt out of the equation.
Kraft is worth over $6 billion. It will be interesting to see whether his money can buy him out of this predicament. You can imagine how damaging a guilty plea would be on his life, personally and professionally.
He’s looking at big trouble with the NFL, which has a strict code of conduct for its players and owners. Even though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a great friend of Kraft, admitting he is guilty of soliciting prostitutes would be something the league would seriously frown upon. And that likely would result in a major fine and suspension.
On Tuesday, a number of survivors of sexual abuse and 60 organizations that combat sexual exploitation sent Goodell a letter asking him to ban Kraft from the NFL if found guilty.
And what would be the reaction of all the charities he’s endowed during his lifetime? Kraft has donated approximately $400 million in his lifetime.
In 2016, Kraft received a humanitarian award from ESPN. During the video presentation that followed, the executive director and co-founder of My Life My Choice, a Boston-based group dedicated to empowering the victims of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, mentioned a $100,000 donation made by Kraft.
On Feb. 22, the organization released a statement to Deadspin in reaction to the news about Kraft:
“Our organization’s existence is focused on ending commercial sexual exploitation. The buying and selling of human beings is an egregious form of abuse. We are heartbroken by the allegations about Robert Kraft. The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation has supported My Life My Choice in the past. We will await additional information before commenting further.”
Kraft is also a major benefactor of Columbia University, from where he graduated in 1963.
Its athletic programs have benefited from his generosity over the years. He made a $5 million donation in 2007 which led to the school naming its football stadium after him. Kraft also contributed millions to an indoor practice facility. He was admitted to its athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.
Kraft has received two other major awards from the university, and its student body was enhanced when Columbia opened the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life in 2000.
If found guilty, there is the practical matter of a 10-day minimum jail sentence and a maximum of up to two years. He’d also be required to do community service, pay fines and attend classes about prostitution intervention.
Either way, this will be a decision that will impact Kraft’s life forever.
UPDATE on 3/20/2019 @ 12:53 PM: There was another interesting twist on Wednesday. ESPN reported Kraft’s legal team filed a motion to suppress evidence, obviously the alleged incriminating video of Kraft with the women. The lawyers want to make sure the video isn’t released, should Kraft decide not to accept the plea deal.