BOSTON (AP) — Attorney General Maura Healey renewed her call on Tuesday for passage of legislation that would tighten state laws around the licensing and regulation of massage therapy and bodyworks in Massachusetts, in the aftermath of allegations that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft paid for sex at a massage parlor in Florida.
Healey, a Democrat, said she found the charges against Kraft to be "deeply troubling and disturbing," and expressed confidence that authorities would "do their job" in prosecuting the case.
Kraft is among hundreds of men accused as part of a crackdown on prostitution allegedly occurring in massage parlors in Florida. He faces two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution and has denied wrongdoing.
Police said Kraft was videotaped in Jupiter, Florida, engaging in a sex act on Jan. 19 , then returned to the establishment the following day before flying to the AFC championship game in Kansas City.
Healey, who says her office has prosecuted dozens of sex trafficking cases, is among sponsors of a bill that would overhaul rules and regulations for Massachusetts businesses that offer massage therapy and bodyworks and sets a code of ethics for the profession.
While state law already requires licensing of massage therapy, the measure would close a loophole in state law by setting the same requirements for those who run bodyworks facilities. The attorney general's office cites several cases of operators advertising themselves as "bodyworks" services to evade state licensing rules and use the unregulated businesses for illegal human trafficking.
Bodywork therapists often use techniques such as cupping used to relieve pain and increase blood flow, and approaches other than massage to improve a person's overall physical and mental condition.
The measure, filed prior to the Florida case involving Kraft, would restructure a seven-member licensure board and would include one member from law enforcement with a background in human trafficking investigations.
"This is not a victimless crime," Healey said of prostitution during her monthly "Ask the AG" program Tuesday on WGBH-FM. "At the other end there is always someone's mother, daughter, sister, and they don't want to be there."
In one recent case prosecuted by the state, Healey's office won human trafficking and money laundering convictions against a Medford woman accused of using massage parlors as fronts for human trafficking, and of bringing women to the state to engage in prostitution. Xiu Chen, 38, was sentenced in December to five years in prison.
The attorney general and Kraft have worked together in the past on issues related to sexual violence.
In 2015, Healey and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation partnered to launch Game Change, an educational program focused on encouraging healthy relationships among adolescents and preventing dating violence and sexual assault. She and Kraft hosted an annual student leadership event for the program at Gillette Stadium last October.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday said he was shocked and disappointed to hear of the allegations against Kraft, while adding that cracking down on sexual exploitation and trafficking has been a high priority for his administration.
Baker, who attended the Patriots' Super Bowl victory in Atlanta last month, declined to offer an opinion when asked if he thought Kraft should step aside from direct control of the team.
"I think that's an issue for the Patriots and the NFL," he said.
This story has been corrected to show the bill would license and regulate just bodyworks, not massage therapists, which are already licensed and regulated.