This article originally appeared as written in the Feb. 8, 2002 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Chicago police are investigating whether R&B superstar R. Kelly—part of today’s opening act at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City—had sex with an underage girl and videotaped the illegal act.
A 26-minute, 39-second videotape, which was sent anonymously to the Sun-Times last week, shows the singer-songwriter performing various sex acts with the underage girl.
Kelly was the halftime act at Soldier Field during the Bears- Eagles game about three weeks ago, singing his “The World’s Greatest” single from the recent movie “Ali.”
Allegations of sex with underage girls have dogged Kelly throughout his career, including his brief marriage to his then-15-year-old protege, Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in August.
The girl in the video, now 17, was identified by her aunt, who said that her niece would have been 14 at the time the tape was made, based on her appearance. Kelly can also be heard on the tape referring to the girl by her first name.
The names of the girl and her aunt are being withheld by the Sun-Times to protect the family’s privacy, although they are known to police.
Chicago police first began investigating allegations about Kelly and the girl three years ago. At the time, both the girl and her parents denied that she was having sex with Kelly.
Without hard evidence or eyewitness testimony, police and prosecutors were unable to press charges. Now, with the video, authorities tell the Sun-Times they are more optimistic about building a case against Kelly.
Illinois state statute prohibits adult men from having sex with girls under 17. It is a felony to videotape a sexual act with anyone under 18, prosecutors said.
Kelly’s attorney, John M. Touhy, said the video is a forgery.
“Any tape you have is a fake, and we find the timing of these events to be extremely suspicious,” Touhysaid. Of the ongoing investigation, the attorney said, “I would imagine that the police will do their job.”
A professional video maker told the Sun-Times the chances of fabricating a phony video that goes on for that long with Kelly’s image and voice are “Slim to none—26 minutes of putting someone else’s head on someone’s body, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of hours of frame-by-frame manipulation to make that work.”
Born and raised on the South Side, Robert S. Kelly, 35, is the most successful R&B performer from Chicago in the last 30 years. He has sold more than 20 million albums, and he scored a massive worldwide hit with the anthemic 1997 single, “I Believe I Can Fly.”
According to court records and interviews first published in a Sun-Times expose in December 2000, Kelly has repeatedly used his fame, wealth and influence as a pop superstar to meet teenage girls and have sex with them.
Kelly has twice been sued by Chicago women who claim they suffered personal injuries and severe emotional harm because of their relationships with him.
Tiffany Hawkins sued Kelly for $10 million in late 1996, charging that he convinced her to drop out of school and have sex with him when she was 15, and that he encouraged her to participate in group sex with him and other underage girls.
Kelly met Hawkins when he went back to his alma mater, the Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park, to speak to the school choir. The girl was a freshman at the school when they met.
Sources said the Hawkins suit was settled for $250,000 in January 1998, shortly after Hawkins gave a seven-hour deposition in the case. The Sun-Times spoke to a friend of Hawkins who confirmed Hawkins’ charges and said Kelly had sex with them together when both choir girls were underage.
Even as the Sun-Times was writing about these allegations, the singer was continuing an illicit relationship with a 17-year-old, according to a civil suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court in August.
“During my relationship with Robert Kelly, I lost my virginity to him,” Tracy Sampson said in her suit. “I was lied to by him. I was coerced into receiving oral sex from a girl I did not want to have sex with. I was often treated as his personal sex object and cast aside. He would tell me to come to his studio and have sex with him then tell me to go. He often tried to control every aspect of my life including who I would see and where I would go.”
Sampson’s lawsuit was filed in August by the same attorney who represented Hawkins, Susan E. Loggans. Sampson, an aspiring rapper who goes by the stage name “Royalty,” graduated high school at age 16 and enrolled at Columbia College.
In April 2000, Sampson became an intern at Epic Records. A month later, she met Kelly and began having sex with him at a recording studio that he partially owns, Chicago Trax at 865 N. Larrabee, the suit states.
Kelly brought the girl with him to Orlando, Fla., and other places to continue the affair, the suit charges. Sampson’s lawyer offers hotel phone records to back up the claim. Even though the girl was 17, the fact that Kelly was in “a position of authority” over her makes the relationship illegal, the suit states.
Since the first story about Kelly ran a year ago, “We have been contacted by other women,” Loggans said. “Other women have come forward who have wanted to provide factual support to our clients.”
Kelly has denied having sex with Sampson in court papers filed in response to her suit.
In 1994, Kelly illegally married Aaliyah, then 15, shortly after producing her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” The marriage was quickly annulled once Aaliyah’s family and the public found out. Aaliyah died in a plane crash last August.
In 1996, Kelly married a 22-year-old dancer from his touring troupe. The couple have two children and maintain several homes in Chicago, including the location where the aunt said the videotape was made, a wood-paneled sauna room in one of his apartments.
Kelly told Sampson’s lawyers in October that he now lives in Olympia Fields.
After the Sun-Times story ran in December 2000, another videotape was anonymously sent to the newspaper. It appeared to show Kelly having sex with a different woman, whose age and identity have not been determined. Police have also investigated that videotape.
In both videotapes, Kelly appears to be very conscious of the camera, looking at it and adjusting the angle several times.
In the most recent tape, the underage girl refers to Kelly as “Daddy” while they have sex. The sex acts include intercourse, fellatio and urination. A television show plays new release music videos including “Let’s have a Party Tonight” by the Backstreet Boys and “Too Much” by the Spice Girls, which were hits in late 1998/early 1999. That would have made the girl 14 at the time. An advertisement can be heard for “The Money Store,” which closed in 2000.
It is not clear for whom Kelly would have made the tapes.
Asked if Kelly is aware of any videotapes of him having sexual relations with women, Touhy said, “I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
Touhy declined an invitation to view the tape.
Kelly is hardly the first celebrity to be accused of taking advantage of young girls. Gary Glitter, Rob Lowe, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roman Polanski, Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and even the legendary Errol Flynn all have been written about in this paper and others for allegedly having trysts with minors.
Kelly’s spokespeople have denied that the singer has had sexual relations with underage girls. They point to his record of philanthropy in the community and discredit allegations against him as an unwelcome byproduct of his wealth and celebrity.
“Mr. Kelly is at the top of his career,” said his attorney, Touhy. “He has a hit song out right now, he performed at the NFC title game, and he’s performing at the Olympics. In light of those events, I believe you have to have serious questions in your mind about the motives of people who sent you that forged tape.”