Robert Kraft's spa scandal has indirect connection to his pal President Donald Trump

·NFL columnist

In a story that seemingly couldn’t get more cringeworthy for the NFL, a bizarre connection surfaced Friday linking President Donald Trump to the founder of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, the establishment at the center of solicitation of prostitution charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

The Miami Herald published a story Friday showing a photo of Trump at a Super Bowl LIII viewing party with Li Yang, a Chinese entrepreneur whom the Herald credits with having founded a handful of day spas in South Florida, including the one surveilled by authorities in a prostitution sting that led to misdemeanor solicitation charges against Kraft.

The “selfie” of Yang and Trump was snapped at Trump’s West Palm Beach country club in February, apparently occurring during a party attended by the president as he watched the Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. It touched off another embarrassing news cycle for the NFL on Friday, with Trump and Kraft having long been known to have close ties.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, accompanied by head coach Bill Belichick, center, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 19, 2017, where the president honored the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots for their Super Bowl LI victory.. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, shaking hands with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in 2017, was in a selfie with the founder of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa during a Super Bowl party in Florida. (AP)

The Patriots owner previously made a $1 million contribution to Trump’s inaugural committee while also famously sharing a flight on Air Force One in 2017 and having at least one private discussion about the NFL’s hot-button issue of player protests, when the president was using the flap as a tool to rouse his base in a few political speeches. After Kraft’s arrest last month on charges that he solicited sex at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, Trump commented on the allegation, saying: “Well, it’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He’s proclaimed his innocence totally, but I’m very surprised to see it.”

The Trump tie surfaces at a time when the NFL is already bracing for questions regarding Kraft's arrest, which will be a key point of interest during this month's owners meetings in Phoenix. Thus far, the NFL has declined specific comment on Kraft's arrest, aside from an affirmation that it is monitoring developments and that all NFL personnel are ultimately subject to the league's personal conduct policy. Should Kraft be found guilty or submit a plea to his charges, it's expected he would face some level of discipline similar to that of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was suspended six games and fined $500,000 for pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated in 2014.

According to the Herald, Yang claimed to have “long since sold” the Orchids of Asia Day Spa before the business had been surveilled by authorities and Kraft was ultimately arrested in a sweep of customers who had allegedly sought sex for payment. It added that the Yang family still owns a number of South Florida day spas, but that she was notably not charged in the sting tied to Orchids of Asia.

The police surveillance and raid of the property were part of a wide-ranging investigation that included a number of other spas in a crackdown last month, some of which were tagged by authorities as having ties to the sex-trafficking industry.

The Herald also noted that Yang became very politically active following Trump’s election in 2016, attending a number of Republican-hosted events and contributing nearly $58,000 to committees either tied to or endorsed by Trump. Yang also took a photo with Trump during a Mar-a-Lago fundraising dinner in March 2018, which included a dinner, reception and autographed photo opportunity for a $50,000 donation.

Kraft’s arraignment hearing in Palm Beach Gardens is set for March 28.

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