Singer’s road through criminal woes become much tougher as feds join forces against him
BY MEGAN CREPEAU
CHICAGO – For nearly two decades, R. Kelly was hounded by whispers: persistent accusations that the R&B legend abuses, controls and sexually exploits teenage girls.
In recent years the whispers have grown to shouts, leading to mass boycotts of his music, an explosive TV docuseries and four pending Cook County sex-crime cases.
But two blockbuster federal indictments unveiled on July 12 promise to eclipse all of his recent troubles — and could potentially put Kelly behind bars for the rest of his life.
“For the federal government at this point to become involved in two separate, very serious cases, they must absolutely believe that they have the goods on him,” said Steven Block, a former federal prosecutor who also served as head of special prosecutions for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
“The Department of Justice does not want to swing and miss on a case like this.”
More recent charges
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York charged Kelly under an anti-racketeering law, alleging that the singer was the head of a criminal enterprise that systematically abused victims across the country.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Illinois allege Kelly, his former manager and a former employee, among other staff, schemed to cover up extensive video evidence of Kelly sexually abusing young girls, and persuaded witnesses in his 2002 child-pornography case to lie to grand jurors. Kelly eventually was tried and acquitted.
The singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, has strenuously maintained his innocence throughout his recent legal woes.
Facing 195 years
He and his lawyers “look forward to his day in court, to the truth coming out and to his vindication from what has been an unprecedented assault by others for their own personal gain,” his attorney Steven Greenberg said in a statement on July 12.
But federal charges ratchet up the legal pressure on Kelly significantly. Not only do the new cases carry considerable penalties — he faces a maximum 195 years in prison in the new Illinois indictment alone — they allege overarching patterns of abuse, rather than individual, discrete criminal acts.
“The federal charges are, I would use the term ‘sweeping,’” said Sabra Ebersole, a former Cook County sex-crimes prosecutor now in private practice. “(They are alleging) a much broader course of conduct.” The state charges are a chapter, Ebersole said, but the federal indictments are a book.
Plethora of tips
Kelly faces four separate indictments in Cook County alleging that he sexually abused four victims — three of whom were underage girls — over more than a decade. But experts said the state cases will likely be put on hold or slowed significantly now that federal indictments have come down.
In a statement, Foxx did not address whether the federal charges could affect the singer’s pending county cases, but noted that her office worked with federal authorities to obtain the new indictment.
Foxx in January publicly called for Kelly’s accusers to come forward, and the office was inundated with tips — which helped lead to Kelly’s federal charges, Foxx claimed on July 12.
“As a prosecutor and a survivor of sexual assault, I recognize the courage it takes to come forward, and I understand the trauma of doing so,” the statement read. “ … We will remain a compassionate resource for survivors as they regain their power and heal.”
Legal experts told the Tribune it is likely that all three prosecutors’ offices will maintain contact as the cases progress. And if Kelly decides to take a plea deal, he would likely want a “global resolution,” said former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer — that is, a deal that will resolve his cases in all three jurisdictions.
Any such agreement would still carry significant prison time, he said.
“(There are) three offices after him,” Cramer said. “Depending on what the judges, plural, do on bail, he could certainly never see the light of day again.”