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The Man Who Sold Mattress Firm To Steinhoff Charged In Same Human Trafficking Sting As Robert Kraft

Mug shots of some of those arrested in a larger prostitution sting in South Florida, including J.W. Childs founder John Childs

The founder of suburban-Boston private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates, which owns or has owned majority stakes in retailers like Orangetheory Fitness and Mattress Firm, has been charged with soliciting prostitution at an Indian River County massage parlor.

The Vero Beach Police Department brought the charges as part of a sweeping human trafficking investigation, in conjunction with other local law enforcement, that made headlines last week when New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, another high-profile billionaire, was also charged.

John Childs, 77, has stepped down as chairman of the Waltham-based private equity firm. He has also resigned as director of the board of KeyImpact, one of the companies currently owned by J.W. Childs.

"The accusation of solicitation of prostitution is totally false," Childs told Bloomberg. "I have retained a lawyer."

J.W. Childs has invested more than $3B in more than 50 businesses since its founding in 1995, including stakes in Bass Pro Shops, Brookstone, Sunny Delight, The NutraSweet Co. and Mattress Firm. Childs was a director on the board of Mattress Firm before selling its stake in the company to Steinhoff International in 2016 in a deal that raised many eyebrows for its inflated valuation.

Mattress Firm has since been embroiled in a lawsuit against two former executives and an outside real estate broker over allegations that they steered the retailer to high-priced real estate in exchange for developer kickbacks. Mattress Firm also has since filed and emerged from bankruptcy, closing more than 600 stores in the process.

Today, J.W. Childs owns home furnishings retailer Walker Edison, Shoe Sensation and the parent company of Orangetheory Fitness.

Aside from Childs, the larger sting operation also caught Kraft and Citigroup's former president and chief operating officer, John Havens, as well as more than 150 other men, according to Bloomberg.