BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 02/24/2019

Thiel: After the jokes, Kraft needs to go high

If Patriots owner Robert Kraft is guilty as charged, he might do a great public service by explaining to his good friend how human trafficking works.

Coach Bill Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft presented President Trump with a jersey at the White House. / Boston Magazine

News Friday of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s imminent arrest for misdeeds in a sleazy Florida strip mall massage parlor inspired a predictable social media firestorm of mockery. For those who have yet to recover from the Pats’ sixth Super Bowl triumph three weeks ago, the episode was a delicious continuation of the tawdriness that is stuck in the franchise’s flesh like a porcupine quill.

West Palm Beach police say Kraft was videotaped in the parlor having sex on two occasions. He was charged with solicitation of prostitution in connection with an investigation of a large international human trafficking ring.

The fact that Kraft, a billionaire who could afford all kinds of higher-priced company in seclusion, was allegedly caught by a police camera in a sting where the going rate was $59 for half an hour, is just one of the episode’s several screaming absurdities.

But the same national bewilderment attended similar misdeeds by Bill Clinton, Hugh Grant and former Seahawks star Eugene Robinson, to name a few among many.

Amusing at it is, the desire of well-off men to risk so much for so little is a secondary palm-to-forehead moment. The bigger, unfunny deal is the victimization of the women forced into the sordid business of sex slavery.

“The story is not Bob Kraft,” William Snyder, sheriff of Martin County, said in a phone interview with the Boston Globe. “The story is that dozens of women in Southeast Florida along the Treasure Coast are living in rudimentary living conditions and being coerced into acts of sexual conduct.”

That’s why after the sports-world snickering fades, the soaring problem of human trafficking remains. The women, mostly from China, South Korea and Thailand who speak little English, are lured by the promises of real jobs, then sequestered in the small spas. They see from seven to 15 men a day,  in many cases leaving one establishment only to be shuttled to another.

“We’ve done around-the-clock surveillance, and they never leave,” Snyder said. “They are squatting at the back door, cooking on a hot plate. There’s no washing machines or dryers. There’s no transportation.

“Even though they weren’t in handcuffs or they weren’t in cages, they were imprisoned. And the men that capitalized on their misery are the true captors.”

Nationwide, an estimated 9,000 illicit massage parlors, many in suburbs, are in operation, according to Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that operates the national human trafficking hot line, according to the Globe.

The state of Washington long has been a port of entry for human traffickers. It was the first state in the country to create an anti-trafficking task force in 2002 and to criminalize human trafficking in 2003.

Progress has been made. In one recent example, Kent police late in 2018 shut down 18 massage parlors, and put a noteworthy dent in related crime, per KOMO News.

Last month, King County, the City of Seattle and Sound Transit announced they had joined with business rivals Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines to create a public awareness campaign that encourages victims and survivors of human trafficking to get the help they need. It expanded a previous effort that dramatically increased the number of people who called the national hotline for resources, including medical care, financial assistance and housing.

“We have the dedicated employees, strong partnerships, and shared commitment needed to stop labor and sex trafficking in our region,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “Human traffickers prey on people in our community who are vulnerable, specifically targeting people of color. Our united effort will connect survivors with the resources they need to break free and thrive once again.”

The trafficking victims, their supporters, the police and the politicians could wind up benefiting from Kraft’s apprehension, presuming charges are true (I’m going to guess he didn’t stage this as a ploy for more money and attention).

There’s nothing like a national sports figure getting busted for something slimy to bring daylight to the matter.

For the next few weeks, sports and news media will be generating steady news about about the national prevalence of the criminal activity, as well as the fate of the owner of sports’ most successful franchise.

The story will put more drama into the fight over the border wall, invented by Kraft’s good friend, President Trump, whose Mar-al-Lago residence is not far from Kraft’s alleged escapades. Renewed attention will be placed upon the ports of entry in states such as Washington and Florida as the largest point of immigration problems, not the desert wastelands.

The league is not going to take away Kraft’s team over a misdemeanor charge, but Commissioner Roger Goodell probably wouldn’t be disappointed if Kraft, 77, put the team on the market.

Independent of the court’s punishment if Kraft is convicted — likely to be probation and community service for a first-time offender — the NFL will be obligated to come up with a fine and suspension, because owners and employees are subject to the same code of conduct as players.

But no fine or suspension of Kraft would be meaningful. What would be meaningful after a conviction is if Kraft owned his mistake, and shook loose some of his wealth to help curb the nasty business of human trafficking that he was helping sustain. Many are the ways private contributions in technology, information, equipment and victim assistance can begin to stem the horror.

I don’t know about Florida’s immigration practices, except to say help obviously is needed. Help could come in the form of improved federal policy.

If this story from The Guardian is accurate, Trump’s hard-line immigration policy could become a gift to human traffickers by forcing undocumented migrant workers, like those Trump employs at his golf resorts, to go underground, where they are at greater risk of slavery and human rights abuses.

Perhaps the next time Kraft has lunch with his pal at Mar-al-Lago, he can suggest that Trump’s re-election chances would improve by getting smarter against human trafficking instead of more foolish.

Sure, it’s a long shot. But Kraft is a winner. So much winning.

Kraft might suggest to the judge that working on Trump can be a fulfillment of his community service obligation. Although that might mean foregoing the opportunity  of seeing video of Kraft scrubbing public toilets.


  • Kevin Lynch

    Well, I must say the news is deflating. For Robert, in any case. But maybe you’re right, Art, that something good can come out of this if Kraft will donate a large sum to working on the hideous problem of human trafficking. And then maybe that can serve as a motivator for each of the super rich in our aristocratic, corp-o-cratic nation to slurry some of their wealth to the bottom 10% of the economic strata.

    • art thiel

      How many more SB wins does a guy need? He screwed up bigly. He can give himself a chance to restore a bit of dignity while helping many.

  • Man, you went Mike Lupica light here. I agree with every word you wrote. When the NFL punishes Kraft perhaps a huge fine to be directed to areas and agencies who help these women escape their imprisonment would be most appropriate.

    • art thiel

      I’ll take the Lupica analogy as a compliment, although more evidence is needed.

      The NFL fine will be minuscule compared to what Kraft can do as an individual. If he does throw $, he will be criticized for attempting to buy back his reputation, which is true. But at this point in the man’s life, I don’t care and neither should he. Just direct his assets in a way that helps a serious problem.

      • It was a compliment. Sports guys can have opinions on other subjects besides sports. I am not lying when I say my four favorite sports writers, you, Jim Murray (yes, I am 62), Lupica and TJ Simers. Perhaps Scott Ostler too but he left L.A. for San Francisco. I have not forgiven him. :)

        • art thiel

          Heavy company. Thanks.

          Ostler’s geography hasn’t hurt his work.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    More often than we are aware, big shots like this, toward the end of their days, realize how wrong something was and undergo a transformation of sorts, then take giant steps to make amends for enabling this nasty, evil, rotten, putrid, fetid, stinking trafficking thing. Running a filthy Deflatriots franchise is one thing, but this one MAY force him to look inward and consider what will happen when he meets his maker. Hope Mr. Art is right on this one and he goes big.

    Sadly, there is little hope that he convinces Drumpfh as to the fallacy of the latest emergency as he has even admitted it on camera that it is a fake emergency. Hope I’m wrong, but maybe somebody could provide the very first example of facts taking their rightful place in the Drumpfh brain?

    • art thiel

      There is a pattern of his taking action based on the last person with whom he talked. Kraft needs to run a well-timed route.

    • Ishkabibble

      Boy, bet you’re fun at parties.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        “. . . fun at parties.”
        Sorry to have to correct you like this, but actually I am. I am in some demand (more than I really want) as an accomplished pianist for parties, graduations, weddings, whatever. If you can afford me, I can be booked through Seattle Local 76-493 of the American Federation of Musicians.
        So thanks for the opportunity, while surely inadvertent on your part.

    • rosetta_stoned

      How old are you? Twelve?

  • Husky73

    The jokes are too easy. If you have a daughter or a grand daughter, as I do, you are sickened.

    • art thiel

      Agreed. We can’t seem to handle the idea that human trafficking exists.

  • jafabian

    Based on how the NFL recently handled Colin Kaepernick’s lawsuit and Tom Brady’s suspension I’m expecting the NFL will fine Kraft and suspend him for a half. He’ll lay low until the Patriots are 10-1. Then he’ll start leading marches to the games and all of Boston will forget about it.

    • art thiel

      I get the cynicism. I do think this is unusual, however. He is alleged to be a participant (unwitting?) in a heinous activity, but charged with only a misdemeanor. The NFL isn’t obligated to use the criminal sentencing as a guide in its punishment, but other owners may be loathe to set the bar so low that it ensnares them.

    • Kirkland

      That’s likely the situation I heard from Mike McCann, the sports law writer at Since this would be Kraft’s first criminal charge, and a misdemeanor at that, the NFL — or even MLS, he owns a team there — can’t do much more than fine him a low-7-figure amount and suspend him for a number of games, like they did with Jim Irsay. (The NBA could oust Donald Sterling because he had a long history of trouble with both league and law, so that racist phone call was a legal last straw.)

  • Will Ganschow

    Can’t agree with any suggestion to improve Donald’s re-election chances. I have yet to meet any male who at some point in their life was not to some degree complicit in the subjugation and/or exploitation of women (yes, I’m on that list.) Like you are doing here, to what ever degree any of us men have been able to wake up from that unconsciousness, we do have a responsibility to speak up and speak out, prepared to acknowledge our own complicity. Son of a female (really) with a sister, wife, and daughter I think whats best to point out is that what is in the best interest of any of the planet’s females happens to be in the best interest of all of us “guys”. I hope a copy of your column gets back to Goodell. Thanks Art.

    • art thiel

      A strong point, Will, about our mutual complicity..

      And my point about re-election was a tactic, not an endorsement.

  • 1coolguy

    Enough with the uninformed cheap shots of Trump,Art. First let it be said neither Bush nor Obama did jack regarding this horrible situation. Second, I attach some reading you and others may want to do to inform yourselves of the true, legit efforts Trump’s people are taking on the subject.
    Again, enough with the partisan, uniformed cheap shots. Who knows, maybe someone in Left, Lib, Sawant-voting Seattle can do their homework and speak the truth.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Oopsie. Uninformed? Nope. Cheap? Non sequitur. Somehow somebody missed the executive order(s), cases (about 6,000), convictions (about 4,000), rescues, executive order forbidding contractors from charging recruitment fees to workers and confiscating I.D., etc. The black guy actually did a lot on this subject but considering somebody’s posting history, it is easy to see how it got “missed” amidst the ocean of other “missed” facts.
      As Mr. Art CLEARLY pointed out, Drumpfh’s actions will further drive traffickers and victims underground. Read harder or something or have somebody help with understanding.
      Speaking of cheap, please instantly self-educate on the many illegals employed at various Drumpfh properties all over the place. Self-education is always good, especially so in this case.

    • art thiel

      Given the two-year history of mendacity, disingenuousness and prevarication, why would reasonable people believe the position paper on human trafficking?

  • Kirkland

    Libertarians would use this case as an argument for decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution. Allowing it, they’d say, would slash the demand for the trafficked women and the associated crimes that come with the current illegal sex trade. They’d point to: how Prohibition essentially created the mob; the positive results of legalized prostitution in places like Australia, Germany and Nevada; and even how legalized pot in this state and the eventual spread of online sports betting in the USA (and the related $$ to be taxed) are reducing the headaches the police and government need to chase. The problem for libertarians espousing this is that they’re a minor bloc of the country’s registered voters, and both the left and right here are vehelemently opposed to legalized prostitution (for very different reasons). What politicians wishing to keep their jobs will pursue a position from a minor voting bloc if said position faces huge and fierce blowback from multiple fronts?

    • art thiel

      The morality of legalization of prostitution is a worthy debate among consenting adults. But trafficking, especially with underage girls, is a separate crime. Even if prostitution were legal and controlled, most of these crimes are still worthy of prosecution because they presumably would break laws independent of legal acts.

      The black market would change some, but not vanish, because human nature is unlikely to change.

  • Ishkabibble

    Well waddya know, now the Martin Cty Sheriff’s Dep’t is (at least in part) walking back much of this “human trafficking” talk. Biggest question for me would be, if they knew of the slavery-type conditions there why’d they allow the operation to run another 6 months rather than immediately getting those women out of there?
    Didn’t Seattle law enforcement run a similar sting a couple years ago? Lots of inflammatory talk about human trafficking and in the end…just some soliciting for prostitution charges. One thing’s for certain; it certainly spices up an otherwise bland story, right?
    I’ve permanently given up on any faith, trust or belief in the intentions of media.

    • art thiel

      My understanding is the Martin County police held a presser and disclosed the contents of the investigation. If they overstated it, it’s on them, not the media.

      My experience reading about these kinds of investigations is they can take months to years, and often require not intervening on illegal acts in order to be comprehensive and accurate.

      Trafficking cases are hard to prove and need international police help. It’s a shame that the corruption case n our government is taking so much investigative manpower.

  • DJ

    Thanks for showing us the high road, and a significantly sad reality, Art.
    The corruption of the rich and famous won’t end, and our visibility into their affairs will only continue to grow – neither can be stopped. However, this human slavery/trafficking must be stopped.

    • art thiel

      Human nature rarely changes. Greek literature has proven that. What can change is our tolerance for cruelty. I discern little real reform on that front.

  • tor5

    So Kraft is thinking: “I could take the honorable path that Art Thiel describes, or I could pay a team of lawyers to obfuscate, confuse, and excuse the matter and pretend that it will be forgotten.” I won’t hold my breath while he makes up his mind. Actually, I can understand a man’s foolishness and blindness in such matters. But when the reality hits – that he’s basically abusing a slave – he needs to wake-up and seek redemption. At least, that’s what a man would do.

    • art thiel

      Accountability is an elusive trait in many men of wealth. And for that matter, non-wealth.

    • Laurie Volk Slater

      We’ve all seemed to buy into the media’s rendition of this being a “slave”, but the fact of the matter is we don’t know. The local PD may be right, they may not be. We all love to jump to conclusions, pontificate like we are holier than thou, and rub the rich guys nose in it. Personally i don’t believe anything i read in the press, and I’m not inclined to believe the local PD’s rendition based on their “surveillance”, we’ll see. The only thing I know for sure is that the press today has lost virtually all credibility, they are as big a Scumbag as Mr Kraft.

      • tor5

        I can only agree, as I said, that few of us are so holy not to succumb to temptation, and I don’t put the “rich guy” morally above or below anyone else; and my reference to being “a man” was to the common struggle to find moral courage when it counts (and was perhaps unnecessarily gendered language). I’d also agree that fact-finding and discernment are paramount, but everything we know is filtered through the media and we’re all left to sort through the malicious propaganda vs. the earnest reporting (which surely exists). That said, the combination of big money and small character (and thereby getting to skate on misdeeds) is especially off-putting, isn’t it?

  • rosetta_stoned

    If this story from The Guardian is accurate… would make it the first time.

    And BTW, Trump properties recently turned in several illegal aliens and are going through the deportation process. But you leftists are bitching about that, too.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Actually, the Guardian is right about in the middle with respect to accuracy.
      The “btw” part is also erroneous as the Drumpfh properties had to do something with their long-time illegal immigrant employees when external outfits brought things to light after some of the employees themselves outed themselves.
      As far as the “you leftists are bitching,” that is also in error–what the complaint would be is the rampant hypocrisy of a candidate running loudly on an issue, then violating said issue repeatedly, far and wide and repeatedly and brazenly, in his own business(es).
      Finally, on that subject, “chain migration” is a favorite buzzphrase from Drumpfh, while coincidentally, nearly all mature, sane observers just might point out the hypocrisy . . . his in-laws are here now . . . courtesy of . . . chain migration.

      Sorry to have to upset you with these facts–maybe go find that safe space now.