Recording IndustryThis week on, former federal prosecutors Sarah M. Hall and Steven A. Block take the blog in a new direction. We will look back on the legal saga of indicted R&B star R. Kelly and present lessons learned from this non-white collar case for the white collar practitioner.

In today’s Part 1, we review the years of criminal cases involving R. Kelly. But first, a quick primer on the superstar singer, songwriter and record producer. Kelly is known for songs including “I Believe I Can Fly”, and has sold over 75 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Billboard Magazine named Kelly as the most successful R&B artist in history and, some say, The World’s Greatest.

Kelly was born in Chicago in 1967. His mother was a professional singer, and Kelly was a gifted singer in his own right from early childhood. An undiagnosed and untreated learning disability, perhaps dyslexia, left Kelly unable to read or write. But his musical Genius was beyond question. His professional music career was in full swing by 1993/1994 with the release of his first solo album, 12 Play, which went platinum six times. Fast forward about eight years to 2002 to his first major criminal charges – by then, Kelly was a Red Carpet-worthy world-wide superstar

Here are Kels’ greatest legal hits:

2002 Chicago indictment on child pornography charges. Although there had been prior allegations and civil lawsuits as far back as 1996 alleging that Kelly had engaged in statutory rape of underaged girls, this was Kels’ first set of criminal charges. The Illinois state case was based on the infamous videotape of Kelly and an allegedly underaged girl. In a theme that would recur throughout the intervening years, the child victim refused to testify at the trial, and a Chicago jury acquitted Kelly on all counts in 2008. After this bombshell acquittal, Kelly would remain on the Down Low of criminal charges for the next 11 years.

2019 Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges. Seventeen years after the first set of charges, and after a BBC documentary that explored allegations that Kelly ran an abusive sex cult, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office charged Kelly again. The storm wasn’t over – this time, the charges alleged that from 1998 to 2010, Kelly sexually abused four females, three of whom were minors at the time. In a strange twist, the evidence included a video provided by now-disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti. Kelly pleaded not guilty and was released. Two weeks after these charges were announced, Kelly went on CBS This Morning to tell his story and proclaim his innocence To the World. Though his attorneys would later wish they Could Turn Back the Hands of Time, Kelly unleashed on national TV an emotional outburst where he stood up, pounded his chest, and yelled during The Interview.

July 2019 Federal Charges in Chicago and Brooklyn. On July 12, 2019, Kelly had his wings clipped in a serious way. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Chicago Doubled Up by bringing two separate indictments against Kelly. The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office charged Kelly with RICO predicated on criminal conduct including sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and Mann Act violations. The federal Chicago charges include child pornography and obstruction. Kelly is Not Feelin’ the Love from the feds, and remains detained in Chicago.

August 2019 Minnesota piles on. A month after the federal indictments, a Minnesota state prosecutor, perhaps believing that Kelly was Guilty Until Proven Innocent, charged Kelly with soliciting a minor and prostitution stemming from an incident 18 years prior, in 2001. Kelly’s attorney stated that the case is a “pure publicity grab by the prosecutor,” apparently a real Go Getta.

August 2020 – Three Kelly Associates Charged with Federal Witness Intimidation. A friend, manager and former publicist of Kelly’s were charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn with conspiring to pay off victims, threatening victims and setting fire to a victim’s father’s car. Though Kelly was not charged in this new indictment, the indictment alleges that Kelly knew his associates were Spendin’ Money to get him out of the Gotham City charges.

We will be Right Back for Part 2 of this blog post, coming later this week. In Part 2, we will break down the lessons learned from the R. Kelly saga for the white collar practitioner. And That’s That.