R. Kelly found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking in federal trial
R. Kelly, the chart-topping R&B singer who for years has been trailed by allegations that he capitalized on his fame to sexually, mentally, and physically abuse women and teenage girls, was found guilty of racketeering and eight violations of an anti-sex-trafficking law in federal court in Brooklyn on Monday.
The singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, faces the possibility of life in prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 4.
Kelly first went to court in 2008 on narrow charges of child pornography, which he denied and of which he was acquitted. But over the years, reporters like Jim DeRogatis out of Chicago (Kelly's hometown) and Surviving R. Kelly producer Dream Hampton kept talking to young women who claimed Kelly had harassed or assaulted them, often when they were underage. The momentum continued to build until February 2019, when Chicago authorities charged Kelly with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against four victims, to which he pleaded not guilty. That July, Kelly was indicted on federal charges of racketeering and conspiracy. In other words, he was charged not only with sexual assault, but with creating a structure of enablers and henchmen to find girls for him to abuse, transport them across state lines, pressure them to stay with him, and more. The Brooklyn jury, which consisted of seven men and five women, deliberated for nine hours and convicted him of those charges.
After a pandemic-induced delay, Kelly's federal trial began Aug. 18 in the Eastern District of New York. The prosecution called dozens of witnesses, including accusers and former Kelly employees who said they looked the other way when abusive acts were committed. The accusers, a group that included several women and two men, testified that once they were ensnared in Kelly's web by his league of bodyguards, managers, and assistants, they were groomed for unwanted sex and psychological torment.
The allegations date back to the 1990s and went into lurid detail about the various "rules" Kelly would compel his accusers to obey, such as always calling him "Daddy" and kissing him anytime he walked into a room. One woman testified that, after breaking one of these rules, Kelly punished her by filming a shaming video of her smearing feces on her face.
There was also testimony about Aaliyah, the late R&B singer whose debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But a Number, was produced by Kelly. Witnesses testified that they saw Kelly sexually abusing Aaliyah when she was around 14 or 15 years old. Evidence was also presented that Kelly fraudulently married Aaliyah after he feared he had impregnated her, forging documents to say she was 18 at the time; he himself was 27.
Kelly always denied all such allegations against him, and pleaded not guilty to these latest charges. He opted not to testify in his defense at the trial. Defense witnesses, such as former Chicago cop and former Kelly bodyguard Larry Hood, testified that he had never seen Kelly abuse anyone. Kelly's attorneys argued that any sexual acts the accusers participated in with Kelly were consensual.
Kelly is still awaiting a trial date for the charges in Illinois.