The legal saga of embattled R&B singer R. Kelly took a dramatic turn Friday when federal indictments against him were made public in New York and Chicago, charging a sweeping scheme by Kelly and those around him to groom and sexually exploit young girls and then cover it up.
The dual indictments are the most serious blows yet to the onetime superstar, who was arrested in downtown Chicago late Thursday as he walked his dog near his residence in Trump Tower. The Chicago indictment alleges Kelly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover child-sex tapes and that he pressured witnesses to change their stories before his pornography trial that ended in acquittal a decade ago.
But it is the New York case that now casts the biggest shadow on Kelly’s future. The New York indictment, unsealed Friday, alleges a racketeering conspiracy in which he and his associates recruited women and underage girls for illegal sexual contact with Kelly, then isolated them and threatened them to keep them under his control.
Kelly, 52, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, appeared briefly Friday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan wearing a baggy orange jumpsuit. He answered with a simple, “Yes, ma’am” when Finnegan asked whether he understood his rights and the charges against him.
Kelly is expected to remain in Chicago at the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown until at least Tuesday, when he is scheduled to reappear in court here for an arraignment and a possible hearing on whether he is released on bond before facing the charges in the Brooklyn-based Eastern District of New York.
Federal prosecutors will argue Tuesday that Kelly should remain in custody pending trial on the Illinois case, contending he poses a real flight risk in the face of such serious charges and that his “psychological abuse and control of the young girls, who are now adults, is real and ongoing.”
Kelly “spent many years of his adult life exploiting and manipulating young girls, including by threatening members of a victim’s family,” prosecutors said in a memo filed Friday.
Earlier, federal prosecutors in New York submitted a similar letter to a judge there asking that Kelly be detained in New York without bond once he arrives in Brooklyn.
“If convicted on all counts, the defendant faces the prospect of spending decades in prison,” wrote Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "Given the strength of the evidence in the case and the substantial prison sentence that the defendant faces, the defendant poses a significant flight risk. As his past interactions with the criminal justice system have failed to deter the defendant from continuing to engage in serious criminal activity, the defendant is also a danger to the community.”
Kelly already was facing a pending case in Cook County criminal court, proceedings that might now pause or significantly slow as his federal charges play out.
He was named in the New York indictment as the leader of a criminal enterprise that included “managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners for Kelly,” according to the document.
“The purposes of the Enterprise were 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,” the New York indictment states.
It was seen by some as an unusual use of federal racketeering conspiracy statutes, the type of charges usually seen in cases against large drug networks or organized crime figures.
Speaking to reporters after the Friday hearing, Kelly’s defense attorney, Steve Greenberg, called the new charges an “unfair piling on” and an “abuse” of anti-racketeering law.
"It's a scary use of that law," Greenberg said.
Greenberg said he will be asking for the musician’s release on bail at the Tuesday detention hearing, adding that the charges are “decades” old and that Kelly has not missed any court hearings in past or pending cases. While awaiting the hearing, Kelly will spend the weekend in detention.
“I suspect that will be influential one way or another whether he will travel on his own to New York or be transported by U.S. marshals,” Greenberg said of the pending bail decision.
The attorney said he believes the dog Kelly was walking before his arrest was given to friends. The dog’s name is “Believe.”
Also charged Friday were Kelly’s former manager, Derrel McDavid, and a former employee, Milton “June” Brown, according to the 13-count Chicago indictment.
McDavid pleaded not guilty to four counts of conspiracy and child pornography-related charges Friday morning in Chicago before U.S. Magistrate Judge Young Kim.
Federal prosecutors and McDavid’s attorney agreed that he would be processed and released Friday on $500,000 bond. Kim ordered McDavid to surrender his passport and a firearm he possesses. He is not allowed to leave the Northern District of Illinois without permission from pretrial services.
Brown, who was not in custody as of Friday afternoon, is scheduled for an initial court appearance next week, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago said.
According to the Chicago charges, Kelly recorded himself having sex with five minor girls beginning in 1998. After learning that some of the tapes were missing from his “collection,” Kelly, McDavid and Brown embarked on a scheme to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover the recordings from various individuals, the indictment alleges.
One of the girls Kelly is alleged to have abused, identified only as “Minor 1,” was the same girl at the center of the child pornography charges lodged against Kelly in 2002, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that Kelly instructed the girl — who was his goddaughter — to lie to police about her sexual encounters with the singer.
Kelly also pressured the girl’s father in May 2002 to falsely tell a Cook County grand jury that his daughter had never had a sexual relationship with Kelly and that she was not the person depicted in the sex tape, according to the federal indictment.
The indictment also alleges that Kelly paid McDavid and Brown to help him cover up his sexual transgressions, including forcing those he allegedly abused to submit to lie-detector tests to show they had turned over all of the sex tapes in their possession.
The new charges add to a mountain of legal troubles already dogging Kelly, who was acquitted in 2008 in a sensational trial in Cook County of charges alleging he filmed himself having sex with his then-14-year-old goddaughter.
The six-hour documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” aired on the Lifetime channel and alleged that he has manipulated young women into joining a “sex cult,” forcing them to stay with him against their will and keeping them under his control.
Citing the “deeply, deeply disturbing” allegations raised in the documentary, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx made an unusual public plea in January for any Kelly accusers to come forward. In the days afterward, her office was inundated with tips.
After surrendering to Chicago police, Kelly spent three nights in custody before a friend posted $100,000 — 10 percent of his $1 million bond — and he was released from Cook County Jail.
At Kelly’s bond hearing in February, prosecutors alleged that he tried to force oral sex on his 24-year-old hairdresser in 2003 while he was free on bond on the then-pending child pornography charges.
Among the other allegations detailed by prosecutors were that he carried on a yearlong sexual relationship with a girl he had met in 1998 when she was celebrating her 16th birthday and that he videotaped himself having sex with a young girl at his home in Olympia Fields in the late 1990s.
The most serious allegations, however, concern a woman identified in charges only as J.P., who prosecutors have said met Kelly during his 2008 trial and began having sexual contact with him the next year when she was only 16.
The four most serious counts in that indictment charge Kelly with aggravated criminal sexual assault — a Class X felony that could carry a prison sentence of six to 30 years upon conviction.
While prosecutors did not identify J.P., she has gone public with her accusations against Kelly, identifying herself as Jerhonda Pace.
Her story first aired in an August 2017 BuzzFeed article by Chicago-based journalist DeRogatis, who has reported on allegations against Kelly for years, and her accusations also were part of the Lifetime documentary series in January that revived interest in Kelly.
After the news broke of the new charges against Kelly, Pace confirmed on Twitter that the new counts involved her.