the law

All Your Questions About R. Kelly’s Alleged Sex Crimes, Answered

Photo: Brian Kersey/AP/Shutterstock

For more than 20 years, best-selling R&B artist R. Kelly has been dodging accusations of sexual misconduct ranging from child pornography to underage sex. In 2008, Kelly was acquitted in one trial in which he was alleged to have had sex and urinated on a 13-year-old. He’s also paid monetary settlements to several women who have accused him of both sexual and physical abuse.

Everything changed for the R&B singer after a Cook County, Illinois, judge approved an arrest warrant for Kelly, charging him with ten counts of felony aggravated criminal sex abuse. Since being released on bond, Kelly was arrested a second time last night while he was walking his dog in Chicago (the first arrest resulted from failure to pay child support). This time, he faces two federal indictments alleging he made videos raping girls and paid minors and/or their families to supposedly lie to investigators about the incidents.

In addition, the singer is also facing a new five-count indictment in New York where he is also accused of the sexual exploitation of a child, a charge that includes kidnapping, forced labor, and other violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of anyone across state lines for illegal sexual activity (i.e., prostitution and/or rape).

Up until now, Kelly has escaped any real punitive damage, but the recent investigations into the singer seem to be have been inspired, in part, by the six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, and last year’s BBC documentary, R. Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes.

In addition to the criminal charges filed in July, the multiplatinum artist was charged with two different sex crimes in Minnesota on August 5.

As we await word on what could happen next, we’ve answered some of the toughest questions about the cases and whether the legendary R&B singer could end up behind bars.

What are the new charges against R. Kelly?
The two charges filed on August 5 against the singer in Minnesota allege that he engaged in prostitution with someone under 18 and hired, or offered, or agreed to hire someone for sexual contact.

Specifically, he’s accused of paying $200 to a teenage girl between the age of 16 and 17 to perform sex acts in his hotel room in 2001 in Minneapolis after she approached him for an autograph.

So how many charges is he facing now?
He’s facing two new charges in Minnesota and five federal criminal charges, including kidnapping and racketeering, in addition to a 13-count indictment in Illinois federal court (for child porn, enticement of a minor, and obstruction of justice) and ten separate charges of aggravated sexual abuse, also in Illinois.

Why was he initially arrested this year?
Kimberly Foxx, Cook County state’s attorney, confirmed that there were initially four anonymous victims involved in the first case this year against Kelly, though his ongoing legal problems all seem to stem from allegations of sexual abuse dating back as early as 1998.

The first time around this year, Kelly was charged with 11 counts of felony sexual abuse in Chicago, which each carry sentences of three to seven years in prison. On February 22, a judge in Illinois had signed a no-bond arrest warrant for Kelly. He had initially turned himself into authorities after the arrest warrant was issued, was booked and his mug shot was taken. And though he struggled to come up with $100,000 of the $1 million bond issued, he paid and was released from holding on February 25. The significance of the no-bond warrant at the time was that he could not be released from jail until he paid the amount of bond assigned by a judge. As a result, Kelly did, in fact, spend some time behind bars after these initial charges were filed.

While the R&B singer had been out on bail (he did that interview with Gayle King that stunned many viewers), he was again arrested for failure to pay child support. Following a hearing, Kelly was taken back to jail and was not released until he paid the more than $160,000 he owed to his ex-wife, Drea Kelly, who has also aaccused him of abuse, for their three children.

So what are the charges against Kelly from July all about?
The federal charges filed against Kelly in July allege that the singer filmed himself raping a girl and paid that girl and/or her family to lie to investigators about it. He also stands accused of violating the Mann Act, which makes it a crime to transport anyone across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution.”

In July, he was charged with one count of conspiracy to receive child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, four counts of making child pornography, five counts of paying a minor to engage in a criminal assault, and one more count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The New York Police Department and Department of Homeland Security were both involved in July’s arrest, before which Kelly had been free on $1 million bond that had been set in February.

How many girls is he accused of assaulting in the July indictment?
He is accused of making child pornography with at least four girls under the age of 18, according to the latest indictment. The charges from Minnesota involve one girl.

What’s the new obstruction of justice charge all about?
The obstruction of justice charge suggests that Kelly and/or his team tried to obstruct justice (the investigation itself) by allegedly paying people several hundred thousand dollars to either not cooperate and/or lie to investigators. One of the accusations against him is that he paid people to lie during a grand jury. Another says he tried to buy back recordings of himself raping minors.

And he already stands accused of other sexual assaults in Chicago?
Yes. According to TMZ, the women at the heart of the indictment range in age from 13 to 16, and are among at least a dozen women who reportedly gave their statements about Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse to a grand jury in Illinois earlier this year. These newest charges add more indictments to the already long list of existing ones.

In reality, Kelly’s legal problems have been brewing for quite some time. BuzzFeed broke a story in 2017 alleging that he was operating an abusive sex cult in both Chicago and Atlanta. The story, which centered on a woman who went simply by “J.,” prompted prosecutors in both states to begin looking into rumors, the most shocking of which suggests the singer may have, or is still holding, several women captive against their will.

Will Kelly continue to be investigated in other states even after he’s been charged yet again?
There are investigations happening concurrently in several state jurisdictions and now on the federal level. There is no reason why these investigations can’t or won’t move forward based on the new charges. In fact, the recent indictment and subsequent court decisions could impact what happens next in other jurisdictions. It could also lead to civil cases and other serious legal problems for the singer, as well as more people coming forward with accusations and/or evidence. It’s believed the latest charges in Minnesota were filed after someone called a tip line.

Why more charges and why now?
The documentaries, the families of missing women, and a growing backlash against Kelly and other accused men in the era of #MeToo all seem to have put pressure on local authorities in several states (and on the federal level) to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, kidnapping, and other illegal activity against the superstar. The fact that this case is getting more press as more charges are handed down could also inevitably inspire other people to come forward with information.

Kelly’s former staff members are also going public. For example, earlier this year, Cheryl Mack, Kelly’s former personal assistant, as well as Asante McGee and Kitti Jones, two ex-girlfriends, admitted publicly that they knew about and/or participated in an alleged sex cult Kelly operated from his home. Jones told the Guardian that Kelly forced women to have sex with one another in front of him, often referring to them as his “pets.” She said he was training women to serve him in what’s described as a kind of “sex dungeon.”

Each of these women also claim that several other women have been and may still be involved in the cult, a situation in which Kelly controlled all aspects of women’s lives, such as when and what they eat, how they dressed, and what they do during sexual encounters. It’s also been alleged that Kelly confiscates women’s phones, locks the women inside private residences, and prevents them from contacting any friends or family.

The introduction of new evidence, which seem to include witness statements and additional child porn videos, would have given investigators a green light to make the new arrest. The new indictments focus exclusively on charges related to child pornography and sex trafficking.

Who are the women believed to be in this so-called sex cult?
Several women have already said publicly they escaped Kelly’s sex cult. Several other families of young women have also approached prosecutors in both Illinois and Georgia with claims that their daughters may have been taken hostage by Kelly. Some of these young women (mostly underage teenagers) are believed to have been pursuing music careers when they met Kelly.

A former friend of Kelly’s, Lovell Jones, admitted last year that Kelly often asked him to find women for the singer — the younger, the better. Several of Kelly’s former employees have also gone public with similar stories.

The family of Joycelyn Savage has been very vocal about Kelly. They believe their daughter is being brainwashed and held hostage by the singer, a claim that Savage vehemently denies. In fact, the 21-year-old appeared on a video call to TMZ late last year saying that she was staying with Kelly on her own accord. “I’m not being brainwashed,” she said.

Azriel Clary, another woman who currently lives with both Savage and Kelly at his Trump Tower residence in Chicago, told police officers who responded to an anonymous tip, that she, too, was living with him voluntarily.

When did Kelly’s legal problems first start?
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on the singer in 2000 when a video surfaced showing someone who was believed to be Kelly sexually assaulting and urinating on a 13-year-old girl in Chicago. Two years later, Kelly was indicted by the Cook County DA’s Office on 21 counts of child pornography. He stood trial, and after just one day of jury deliberations, he was acquitted on all charges in 2008. The singer has long denied that he was the man in the video.

More videos have since emerged that prompted the latest indictment.

Was Kelly ever caught with incriminating evidence before?
There have been close calls for Kelly over the years. For example, the same year Kelly performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant in Miami. When police searched the singer’s home they discovered about a dozen images of Kelly engaged in sex acts with an underage girl on a digital camera. After much legal wrangling, the charges were dropped due to lack of probable cause for the original search warrant. Kelly never stood trial for possessing child pornography or having sex with an underage girl.

Has Kelly faced any other legal issues?
Kelly’s had many run-ins with the law over the years, including several lawsuits by women who have accused him of physical and sexual abuse.

It started when he married Aaliyah in 1994. At the time, Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was just 15; the legal age of consent in Illinois is 16. The couple reportedly lied about Aaliyah’s age on the wedding certificate (though Kelly later said Aaliyah lied to him about her age), and by 1995, the marriage was annulled. In 1997, Aaliyah filed a lawsuit to have the records officially expunged, and both Aaliyah and Kelly denied they were ever married. Aaliyah, whose first album Kelly produced, died in a plane crash in 2001.

In 1996, Kelly and his entourage were involved in a fight at a health club in Louisiana. Kelly was found guilty of battery, placed on one year of unsupervised probation and reached a settlement in a lawsuit by the victim, who needed 110 stitches after the fight. That same year, Tiffany Hawkins sued Kelly for $10 million after accusing him of having sexual relations with her when she was just 15. He settled the lawsuit a year later for $250,000.

In 1998, Kelly was arrested on three misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct in Chicago, including violating a noise ordinance. Prosecutors eventually dropped all charges.

In 2001, Tracy Sampson, an intern at Epic Records, sued Kelly, claiming she was involved in an abusive sexual relationship with him when she was 17. She told the New York Post, “He often tried to control every aspect of my life, including who I would see and where I would go.” The case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

The same year, R. Kelly paid a settlement to Jerhonda Pace, a Chicago woman who claimed she was 16 when the “Trapped in the Closet” singer abused her both physically and emotionally. She later admitted she accepted a cash settlement from Kelly for an undisclosed amount.

Kelly was sued again in 2002 by Patrice Jones, a Chicago woman who claimed she became pregnant by Kelly while she was underage, and that he forced her to have an abortion. He settled this case out of court after paying an undisclosed amount.

Montina Woods sued Kelly in 2002 after alleging he filmed them having sex without her knowledge. The bootleg recording was eventually sold as R Kelly Triple-X. He settled the case out of court after paying an undisclosed amount.

Andrea Lee Kelly, Kelly’s ex-wife and the mother of his three children, filed a restraining order against the singer in 2005 after what she described as a “physical altercation” (she divorced him a year later). In 2018, Lee went public saying that during her marriage to Kelly he regularly abused her, including hog-tying her to a bed.

In 2018, Kelly was accused of purposely infecting a former sex partner with a sexually transmitted disease. He was not charged and has denied this and all other allegations.

So what could happen next?
Because the singer faces charges on top of charges in different jurisdictions, he may have a hard time securing bond anywhere.

Plus, his former manager is also under investigation for supposedly making death threats against the Savage family who have accused the singer of kidnapping their daughter.

In addition, the Fulton County DA’s Office in Georgia is, according to the Blast, working closely with one of Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee. This year, she walked investigators through a former mansion owned by Kelly, where she says women were being held against their will. She described the scene in detail.

Earlier this year, attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing several of Kelly’s accusers (including the latest woman in Minnesota), held a press conference alleging that Kelly has been trying to intimidate women from telling their stories. Allred said when accuser Faith Rodgers came forward last year by filing a lawsuit against Kelly in New York for sexual battery, false imprisonment, and “willfully, deliberately and maliciously” infecting her with an STD, Kelly posted photos of Rodgers without her permission and threatened to expose any correspondence of a sexual nature they may have had.

The photos of Rodgers were, in fact, posted to a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” that was created in response to Surviving R. Kelly. Facebook has since deleted the page.

The New Yorker first reported that a second grand jury had been convened in the Southern District of New York based on investigations by both the FBI and IRS. This comes after prosecutors issued a subpoena for one of Kelly’s former accountants and his manager. It’s likely all of these investigations may have had a hand in the latest indictments against the singer.

The Department of Homeland Security had reportedly formed a group of investigators to wade through potential evidence about Kelly’s alleged sex crimes, specifically looking into when he may have transported underage girls across state lines. This new case may hinge on a young woman in Florida who alleges that she was indoctrinated into Kelly’s supposed sex cult when she was just 17, which is considered to be a minor in the state of Florida.

Could Kelly face even more charges?
If authorities find additional evidence of wrongdoing, or if any credible witnesses continue to come forward with evidence and statements, Kelly could certainly be charged with any number of additional crimes ranging from kidnapping and false imprisonment to sexual battery and statutory rape, or even witness intimidation, all of which can carry fines and prison time that vary from state to state.

Is it possible to select an unbiased jury in such a high-profile case like this?
Prosecutors will need to consider how best to proceed fairly in such a high-profile case. As we’ve seen in both the first and second Bill Cosby trials, jurors can be selected either locally or from a different part of the state. In Cosby’s first trial, jurors were selected in Pittsburgh and transported to Philadelphia, where they were sequestered for the duration of the trial. In the retrial, jurors were chosen locally, although they, too, remained sequestered during the entirety of the trial.

Cases like these may also be tried in different municipalities from where the charges are filed. For example, the Illinois judge may decide to pursue the trial somewhere else within the state. But given how famous Kelly is both nationally and worldwide, it’s unlikely that a change in venue would make much of a difference.

Even so, the defense in a case like this would want to consider what type of jurors may be most sympathetic to their famous client, while the prosecution would be looking for jurors who are sympathetic to the women, rather than the famous face at the defendant’s table. Trial attorneys often consult with jury experts to help determine juror profiles. Each state’s guidelines differ, of course, but attorneys who interview jurors for such a high-profile case are still expected to observe all standard trial guidelines.

For example, they are generally given a certain number of objections as they seek to eliminate unfavorable jurors. Ideally, each side would want to build a jury with people who are willing to set aside their personal biases to consider the evidence being presented. No matter how diligently prosecutors and defense attorneys work to create a fair and impartial jury, the celebrity factor and ongoing news saturation about the shocking allegations are bound to have an impact, as are other issues, like the public’s increasing awareness about movements like #MeToo and even #MuteRKelly.

Keep in mind that while Cosby’s jury was unable to come to a verdict in his first trial, in the post-Weinstein and #MeToo atmosphere, the jury in a retrial found him guilty within two days.

Are more women expected to come forward with new accusations?
The state attorney’s office in Chicago has confirmed that during the past year, it has received many inquiries about the case against Kelly. As more indictments are made, it’s not unusual for more accusers to come forward with claims. This seems to be what happened with the latest allegations in Minnesota.

For example, Danielle Williams said she had a relationship with Kelly for six years starting when she was 16. She recounted being approached by the singer’s business manager in a Chicago restaurant in 1998, and claims that Kelly paid her for sex, asked her to talk like a baby, and locked her in a hotel room for three days, but eventually lost interest in her when she matured. “I know that he’s a pedophile,” she said.

Several other women have also gone public, including Rodgers, who claimed that Kelly subjected her to cruel and humiliating sexual experiences during their one-year relationship, and later tried to intimidate her into not going to the police. Another woman, Kitti Jones, also claimed the singer abused her and forced her into sexual situations with other women.

How has Kelly responded to the charges?
Kelly denies all allegations against him.

Most recently, his lawyers suggested that the women and girls coming forward with allegations against the singer are “disgruntled groupies.” They described the accusers as “groupies” that “sought out Robert’s attention, even fought each other for it, voluntarily contacted him, came to his shows, pined to be with him.”

During that heated interview with Gayle King, Kelly lashed out, saying, “Stop it. Y’all quit playing. Quit playing. I didn’t do this stuff. This is not me. I’m fighting for my fucking life.” He lashed out at the allegations, at one point standing up and screaming at King and the camera before being led away by a publicist.

“Forget the blogs, forget how you feel about me,” he said. “Hate me if you want to, love me if you want, but just use your common sense. How stupid would it be for me, with my crazy past and what I’ve been through … Oh, right now I just think I need to be a monster and hold girls against their will, chain them up in my basement.”

Last year, he also released a statement equating the allegations to a public lynching, saying, “R. Kelly’s music is part of American and African-American culture that should never — and will never — be silenced. Since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it. We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”

He penned a 19-minute song, “I Admit,” in which he doesn’t really admit anything, though he does say, “I admit I done made some mistakes / And I have some imperfect ways.”

Kelly’s also threatened to sue Lifetime, the network that aired Surviving R. Kelly. In the past year or so, the singer’s longtime lawyer, assistant, and publicist quit. Kelly is also reportedly experiencing anxiety over these new allegations; he’s been hospitalized for “panic attacks.”

How is the industry responding?
Kelly’s record label RCA/Sony dropped him, and Spotify has removed his songs from all of its playlists.

The #MuteRKelly movement has also been gaining momentum after issuing an open letter that called on the music industry to cut ties with the singer. The group, led primarily by women of color, said, “We demand appropriate investigations and inquiries into the allegations of R. Kelly’s abuse made by women of color and their families over two decades now.”

Famous members include director Ava DuVernay and writer and actor Lena Waithe. Singer John Legend also makes no secret of standing with the women of #TimesUp and #MuteRKelly on his social media.

The companies currently being targeted by #MuteRKelly include but are not limited to: Apple Music, Live Nation’s Ticketmaster, and concert venues around the country that have and are scheduled to host the singer.

Several other celebrities are also breaking ties with Kelly. After Lady Gaga publicly apologized and showed her support for Kelly’s accusers, the song she recorded with him, “Do What U Want (With My Body),” was removed from all streaming services. Celine Dion also pulled her duet with Kelly, “I’m Your Angel,” from streaming services.

Artists like Chance the Rapper are also standing up for Kelly’s accusers. He said in a statement, “The truth is any of us who ever ignored the R. Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) were doing so at the detriment of black women and girls.” He said he now regrets working with Kelly.

Not all musicians are coming out against Kelly, however. Rapper French Montana told TMZ earlier this year that Kelly should be able to enjoy his legacy. “Whatever happened, happened,” he said. A few days later Montana backtracked on social media, saying, “Let me be clear. My heart is with the victims.”

Still many other artists who have been called out for working with Kelly have yet to make any formal statements. Quite a few artists who were asked to participate in Surviving R. Kelly declined to appear, including Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, and Dave Chappelle.

Kenyette Tisha Barnes, the co-founder of the #MuteRKelly movement, said recently, “It’s time for the collective D.A.s and federal prosecutors to make an indictment.”

Has Kelly’s family responded?
They have not responded to the charges this year, but in addition to his ex-wife, Kelly’s daughter, Baku Abi, took to Instagram earlier this year to call her estranged father a “monster.” She said, “To the people who feel that I would be speaking up/against everything is going on right now, I just want you all to understand that devastated is an understatement for what I feel currently.”

She said that her mother and siblings haven’t had any contact with Kelly for many years. “The same monster you all confronting me about is my father,”
she said. “I am well aware of who and what he is. I grew up in that house.”

This story is developing and will be updated accordingly.

All Your Questions About R. Kelly’s Legal Problems Answered