Owning a football team, no matter the size, puts a person in a league of their own. That’s especially true when that team is the New England Patriots. Robert Kraft, who owns the Tom Brady-led and Bill Belichick-coached group of footballers has made a name for himself over the years for winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl. But there’s more to the billionaire businessman than meets the eye.
Having started his career by purchasing the Rand-Whitney Group packaging company and founding International Forest Products, Kraft later gained fame for coughing up a whopping $175 million for the Patriots in 1992, setting a record for the highest bid on a sports team in NFL history at the time (via Business Insider). But there are a few shady details about the sports owner that have left fans raising an eyebrow. From his peculiar love life to his strange connection with Russia, Kraft’s one to keep an eye on. Some of this guys plays may prompt sports fanatics to yell out, "Penalty!"
Dicey dating decisions
There’s nothing wrong with an age difference between lovers — but when that gap spans several decades, it can often be seen as more than a little strange. Case in point: Robert Kraft and his longtime girlfriend, sometimes-actress Ricki Noel Lander. While Kraft can snag a senior citizen discount at the theater, his gal will have to pay full price for a long time — she’s nearly four decades his junior.
It seems Kraft may have been well aware of the startling age difference back in 2012, when the pair was first spotted out together, because he didn’t even call her his girlfriend at the time. "She’s my pal," he said in response to questions about his frequent female guest at Patriots games (via Deadspin).
His decision to date a much younger woman apparently shocked Kraft’s close friends. A source told People that his inner circle was caught off guard to hear that Kraft had started dating again after the 2011 death of his wife Myra. "He was devoted to his late wife and loved her so much and was devastated by her death so people find his new relationship with this woman who is so much younger to be surprising," the insider said.
Kraft and Lander have been dating since 2012, so when rumors circulated that the blonde actress had given birth to a baby, most assumed it was Kraft’s child. However, that was apparently not the case. According to People, while it was confirmed that Lander delivered her first child in the fall of 2017, Kraft’s spokesperson denied that the Patriots owner was the father — despite the couple’s continued relationship.
"Last fall, Ricki Noel Lander became the proud mother of a beautiful, healthy baby. While Robert Kraft is not the biological father, he is thrilled with Ricki’s blessing of having a healthy child," Kraft’s rep told Page Six. "With respect to her family’s privacy, we will not be commenting any further."
So… did Lander get pregnant by another man during a break from Kraft? Or does Kraft simply not want to claim paternity for the child? Or perhaps Kraft was unable or uninterested in fathering a child and gave Lander his blessing to have a baby utilizing another means. As of this writing, nothing is clear.
Regardless, Kraft is reportedly taking steps to ensure the comfort and health of both Lander and her baby, allegedly purchasing a mansion in Los Angeles and making investments for the new mother. While Kraft sounds supportive, the birth of Lander’s child may still be a touchy subject for him. A source told Page Six, "There is a lot of tiptoeing around the subject at the Patriots offices. Everyone is afraid to openly talk about it."
Kraft may be one of the richest men in America with a lifetime of professional and financial success under his belt, but that doesn’t mean he still won’t take the time to celebrate his victories — and rub his enemies’ faces in them.
According to a February 2018 article in The New York Times, Kraft sparked outrage from fellow NFL team owner Arthur Blank after he ordered Super Bowl LI rings that paid mocking homage to the third-quarter score of the Patriots’ game against the Atlanta Falcons. At one point in said quarter, the Falcons were leading the Patriots 28-3, but New England proceeded to mount an amazing comeback and win the Super Bowl in overtime by a score of 34-28. The Times reported that Kraft had precisely 283 diamonds set into each of the rings in a move that would forever troll the team’s rivals.
Blank, who has owned the Falcons since 2002, felt Kraft’s design was disrespectful. "I said to Robert, ‘You didn’t have to do the 28-3 in the ring,’" Blank told the Times. "It kind of pissed me off."
Present for Putin
It’s no secret that the United States has had a strained relationship with Russia for the better part of the past several decades, so it’s rather surprising to learn that Patriots owner Robert Kraft met with Russian President Vladmir Putin in 2005.
Kraft recalled the meeting for NFL Films in 2017, explaining that he visited Russia with a friend and even gave Putin an expensive gift — though he allegedly hadn’t meant to at the time.
While showing off his Super Bowl ring to the Russian leader, Kraft said he handed the huge piece of jewelry to Putin to examine and try on, but Putin apparently did more than that. According to Kraft (via CBS Sports), Putin remarked, "I could kill someone with this," and then placed the ring in his pocket and walked away.
Kraft supposedly tried to get his bling back, but that’s when the U.S. government allegedly stepped in. Kraft claims the White House told him: "It would really be in the best interest of US-Soviet relations if you meant to give the ring as a present."
In an effort to keep the peace, Kraft caved to diplomacy. "I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin," Kraft told NFL Films.
Ready for a fight
While Robert Kraft was able to let go of sour grapes toward Putin, the storied owner has been far less willing to promote peace within the National Football League — or within the New England Patriots.
According to a January 2018 article published by ESPN, Kraft butted heads with Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick and the team’s all-star celeb quarterback, Tom Brady, and it all reportedly had to do with trading player James Garoppolo, or Jimmy G, and with some allegedly questionable actions by Brady’s friend and "body coach," Alex Guerrero.
Kraft denied that the conflict with Belichick and Brady would lead to any sort of permanent falling out. In fact, the team’s owner told Good Morning Football that the strain was good for the team. "You have tension. I think a certain amount of tension helps make great things happen," he said (via CBS Boston).
He was arrested for soliciting prostitution
On Feb. 22, 2019, Robert Kraft was one of the hundreds arrested for soliciting sex at a day spa in Jupiter, Fla. The charges stem from a "sweeping South Florida sex trafficking sting that netted hundreds of johns over the past two weeks," reported the Miami Herald. According to the Jupiter Police Department, the Patriots owner "was charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution" during two separate trips to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.
The spa’s manager, Lei Wang, was also arrested on several prostitution-related charges. "The sexual activity at the spa, sandwiched among a surf shop, a nail salon, a game room and a Thai restaurant, is believed to be tied to an international human-trafficking and prostitution ring," The Palm Beach Post reported.
CNN Sports News Editor Jill Martin tweeted a statement from a spokesperson for Patriots owner Robert Kraft: "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."
He visited the spa the day of the AFC Championship Game
According to Boston.com, Robert Kraft visited the Orchids of Asia Day Spa and engaged in sex acts "the night before and the morning "of his team’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. On the evening of Jan. 19, 2019, the Patriots owner reportedly arrived at the massage parlor "in a 2014 white Bentley," and returned a second time in a "2015 blue Bentley."
During a press conference on Feb. 25, 2019, State Attorney Dave Aronberg said "enough evidence exists to file charges" against Kraft and the other 24 men arrested in the sting. "This is not about lonely old men or victimless crimes," Aronberg said (per CNBC), noting "the cold reality that many prostitutes in cases like this are victims, often lured into this country with promises of a better life, only to be forced to live and work in a sweatshop or a brothel…" Kraft faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge that’s "punishable by up to one year in jail, a $5,000 civil penalty, and a mandatory 100 hours of community service," reported CNN.
Kraft could also face discipline from the NFL if he violated its Personal Conduct Policy. "We will handle this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the Policy. We are seeking a full understanding of the facts while ensuring that we do not interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation," the league said in a statement.
Graphic videos may be released
According to the Daily Beast, graphic footage of Kraft’s trips to the massage parlor exists to due to a warrant that allowed police "to plant recording devices" in the rooms where the "massages" were taking place. ESPN reporter T.J. Quinn tweeted that sources who have seen the footage claim "it is unquestionably Kraft" and that he isn’t expected to "dispute the charges." In another tweet, Quinn said that law enforcement officials expect the video to be released eventually and "most graphic parts likely will be either eliminated or pixilated." Quinn added that a defense attorney is trying to block the release of that footage.
Meanwhile, the spa has apparently become some sort of tourist attraction. "People wearing football jerseys and others were seen taking group photos and selfies outside the door of the Jupiter spa," reported CNN.