The New Indictments Against R. Kelly Are an Indictment of the Music Industry
Twenty-eight years after the first alleged instance of R. Kelly engaging in sexual contact with an underage girl, two federal indictments unsealed on Friday shed new light on how the musician allegedly got away with preying on minors while standing at the bright center of the music world, and how he escaped justice, in 2008, when he was tried and acquitted of making child pornography.
The new charges include child pornography, enticement of minors to engage in criminal sexual activity, obstruction of justice, racketeering, transporting minors for prostitution, and coercion or enticement to engage in criminal sexual activity. The indictments are the result of investigations by the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, which was first reported in The New Yorker, in February. Taken together, the five-count indictment from the Eastern District of New York and the thirteen-count indictment from the Northern District of Illinois present a harrowing account of a nineteen-year criminal enterprise comprised of “managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners” all designed to “promote R. Kelly’s music and the R. Kelly brand and to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly.”
Steve Greenberg, an attorney for the singer, dismissed the allegations in a statement. “The conduct alleged appears to largely be the same as the conduct previously alleged against Mr. Kelly in his current State indictment and his former State charges that he was acquitted of. Most, if not all of the conduct alleged, is decades old.” Greenberg added that Kelly looks “forward to his day in court, to the truth coming out and to the vindication from what has been an unprecedented assault by others for their own personal gain.”
The Illinois indictment states that Kelly filmed some of his illegal encounters with minors—four of whom appeared in videotapes. The five underage victims cited in the Illinois indictment and the five underage victims cited in the New York indictment are not named, but one victim appears to be the same girl in the videotape for which Kelly was tried on charges of child pornography in 2008. Prosecutors during that trial said that the victim was fourteen at the time the videotape was made.
The new federal indictment alleges that the girl and her parents were bribed to lie to the grand jury and deny that she had sexual contact with Kelly. Federal filings cite a payment of thirty thousand dollars to the girl’s father and a gift of a GMC Yukon Denali S.U.V. to the girl herself. They say that other witnesses were intimidated into giving false testimony about the star’s illegal acts through “physical abuse, violence, threats of violence, [and] blackmail” by Kelly and his associates. Two of those associates—Kelly’s former manager Derrel McDavid, and his personal assistant Milton (June) Brown—were also indicted in Illinois on federal charges, including obstruction of justice. This is the first time that any of Kelly’s associates have been charged. (Reached by telephone, a receptionist at McDavid’s accounting office said McDavid had no comment at this time. Brown could not be reached for comment.)
The federal filings also refer to—but do not name or charge Kelly for—his controversial marriage to Aaliyah, who was then his protégée. He produced her début album, which he titled “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” in 1994, when she was fifteen. As I wrote in my book “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly,” numerous people in the star’s orbit knew—for decades—about his pursuit of underage girls and mistreatment of women, including, recently, the two young women whose parents say that their daughters are currently part of Kelly’s “sex cult.” The New York indictment notes that “the women and girls were not permitted to leave their room without receiving permission from Kelly, including to eat or go to the bathroom, [they] were required to wear baggy clothing . . . were told to keep their heads down; and . . . were required to call Kelly ‘Daddy.’ ”
For years, many journalists, music critics, radio programmers, concert promoters, and record-company executives ignored or dismissed the allegations against Kelly, especially when he was generating income and scoring hits. Kelly has not released a successful album since 2013, and, at age fifty-two, he is not only a fading star but, by his own admission, “a broke-ass legend.”
The new federal charges—which mean Kelly could spend a total of a hundred and ninety-five years in prison if he is convicted—come on top of ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse brought, in February, on behalf of four women, three of whom were underage at the time, by the Cook County State’s Attorney, in Illinois. An additional eleven counts in that case were added in May, on behalf of one of the women, whom Kelly first met when she was a fifteen-year-old fan attending his 2008 trial. The charges of transporting underage girls for sexual purposes across state lines and overseas violates the Mann Act, under which Chuck Berry was convicted and spent two and a half years in prison after his arrest in 1959.
Since Kelly’s arrest on Thursday evening, while he was walking his dog outside his apartment at Trump Tower Chicago, he has been held at Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center. Prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York are seeking his transfer to their jurisdiction, and, in a memo to the court, prosecutors are asking that he be held without bail while awaiting trial. Richard P. Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a press release, “This indictment makes clear that fame and power will not shield anyone from prosecution.” Ultimately, that depends on whether Kelly is convicted at trial, a fate he has avoided for all these years.