the law

R. Kelly’s Lawyer Invokes Matt Lauer to Argue for Acquittal

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Getty Images

R. Kelly’s lawyer is invoking other men’s misdeeds to defend the disgraced R&B star, citing alleged harassers Matt Lauer and Roger Ailes in new court papers. Attorney Jennifer Bonjean’s name-dropping was part of her ongoing push for Kelly’s acquittal.

Kelly was convicted on all counts in his Brooklyn federal court trial on September 27, 2021. Kelly was tried with one count of racketeering and eight Mann Act counts. (The Mann Act is a law that bars transporting people across state lines for illegal sexual conduct.) Bonjean’s mention of Lauer and Ailes stems from how prosecutors pursued a racketeering rap against Kelly. The prosecution argued at trial that Kelly’s sexual predation was not merely a collection of isolated instances of abuse, but rather was carried out as an organized criminal enterprise — which is where the racketeering charge came in. Federal prosecutors cited specific instances of sexual misconduct ranging from grooming minors to psychological manipulation — and traced the vast network of handlers who enabled it — to argue their racketeering case.

Bonjean said that prosecutors’ reasoning in their decision to argue that Kelly’s actions constituted a racketeering enterprise would also mean that “under the government’s theory both FOX News and NBC News constitute RICO enterprises because of the bad conduct of Roger Ailes and Matt Lauer respectively.”

“By the government’s logic, if Ailes’ assistants carried out tasks, such as scheduling appointments, arranging transportation or making lunch reservations for Ailes and women he harassed or assaulted, those assistants constitute members of a RICO enterprise irrespective of their knowing involvement in Ailes’ unlawful conduct,” Bonjean wrote.

“The same can be said for Matt Lauer, former NBC News anchor, who was accused of repeatedly harassing and assaulting his female colleagues, sometimes while traveling for work,” she argued. “Consistent with the government’s theory, any of Lauer’s assistants, handlers, drivers would qualify as members of an enterprise for RICO purposes if in the course of their duties they facilitated Lauer’s illegal sexual conduct – even unwittingly.”

In November 2017, Lauer was fired from NBC’s Today following sexual-misconduct allegations. According to Variety, in the 2019 book Catch and Kill Ronan Farrow reported that the woman whose complaint prompted Lauer’s firing, Brooke Nevils, had accused the disgraced TV host of raping her at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Ailes was accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women at Fox, leading to his firing. Ailes died in May 2017.

“Of course, the government has shown no willingness to use its aggressive RICO theory against powerful White men,” wrote Bonjean, who successfully represented comedian Bill Cosby in his appeal.

Bonjean did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Representatives for Fox News and NBC News did not immediately respond to inquiries. Lauer’s lawyer said “no comment” in an email. The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office did not comment on Bonjean’s arguments.

Kelly is scheduled to be sentenced on May 4, 2022.

R. Kelly’s Lawyer Invokes Matt Lauer to Argue for Acquittal