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R. Kelly’s lawyer wants messages between Avenatti, state’s attorney’s office

R. Kelly walks with attorneys and supporters out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Friday, March 22, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

R. Kelly’s lawyer has demanded law enforcement officials preserve all communications between Cook County prosecutors and embattled celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti.

Citing concern over Avenatti’s recent indictment for allegedly attempting to extort millions from Nike and referencing State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, defense attorney Steve Greenberg, filed a motion that requires prosecutors, police and the state’s witnesses to save their communications with Avenatti.

Talking to reporters after a brief hearing on Monday, Greenberg said the prosecutors’ case against Kelly appear to lean heavily on accusations leveled by Avenatti and the women he is representing. Avenatti’s extortion case has shown “how he operates,” Greenberg said.

“We’ve already seen that State’s Attorney Foxx has conversations with people about pending cases, pending investigations,” Greenberg said after the brief hearing Monday. “I want to know what conversations she had with Avenatti about this case, and these facts, and what occurred.”

A spokeswoman for Foxx’s office declined comment, citing the pending criminal cases against Kelly. In a response motion filed by prosecutors after the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Gonzalez said that Greenberg’s allegations did not include any proof of his suspicions.

“Not only are (Kelly’s) accusations and speculation lacking in factual support, the also bear no discernible relation to defendant’s request that certain evidence be preserved,” the response brief states, adding that state public records laws require them to retain records.

Kelly did not appear at Monday’s hearing. Greenberg told Judge Lawrence Flood that the singer was ill. Flood did not rule on Greenberg’s motion, and said the two sides would discuss it further at a hearing set for May 7.

In February, Avenatti told reporters he gave the state’s attorney’s office a VHS tape of Kelly having sex with an underage girl, a video that was used as evidence in one of the four cases of criminal sexual abuse the singer faces. At Kelly’s bond hearing, prosecutors described the video of the singer and an underage girl identified as “R.L.” engaging in sex acts and noted the singer and the girl both made reference to her age: 14 years old.

“From (evidence) that has been tendered it appears that the only ‘investigation’ done before these charges were brought (in 3 of the 4 cases) was a state’s attorney investigator reading old reports, an interview with a Michael Avenatti client, and the prosecutors speaking with Avenatti,” Greenberg wrote in his motion. “The lack of any meaningful investigation of these stale allegations is outrageous.”

Attorney Michael Avenatti, who is representing an alleged R. Kelly victim, speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after the R&B singer entered a not guilty plea to all 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, Monday, Feb. 25, 20
Attorney Michael Avenatti, who is representing an alleged R. Kelly victim, speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after the R&B singer entered a not guilty plea to all 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

READ MORE: The R. Kelly investigation

Avenatti fired back at Greenberg on Twitter shortly after Monday’s hearing.

“Steve Greenberg, R Kelly’s atty, is now trying to distract attention away from the clear guilt of his client by raising bogus arguments about me and Kim Foxx. The evidence is the evidence. Multiple witnesses/tapes, plus DNA. R Kelly will be convicted for his sexual abuse of girls,” Avenatti tweeted.

Greenberg said that the tape Avenatti gave to prosecutors was not a new one, citing his own sources. At a hearing in March, prosecutors said they would allow Greenberg to view the tape, but would not give the defense team a copy of the video.

Greenberg said that each of the cases now pending against Kelly, which span alleged abuse involving four victims in incidents that happened between 1998 and 2010, had been previously reviewed by prosecutors without charges being filed against the singer. Kelly was acquitted of child pornography charges following a 2008 trial, in which prosecutors had video of him having sex with a girl who was allegedly 14 years old.

Greenberg’s motion also raises potential bias on the part of Foxx, citing her public statements about sexual abuse she suffered as a child and her public call for victims of R. Kelly to come forward after the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary aired in January. Several women who said they contacted the state’s attorney’s office would later become Avenatti’s clients, Greenberg said.

Greenberg also mentioned Foxx’s handling of the Smollett’s case and her communications with Democratic fundraiser Tina Tchen and a Smollett relative. All charges against Smollett for allegedly setting up a fake hate crime were dropped last week.

“Plainly, this particular state’s attorney is able to be influenced and wowed, as evidenced by the facts of her recusal and the subsequent series of events in the Jussie Smollett case,” Greenberg wrote, with a footnote adding that Smollett’s lead attorney, Mark Geragos, was an unindicted co-conspirator in Avenatti’s alleged extortion of Nike.

“Here there are serious questions whether these attorneys influenced their clients and the narrative. There are serious questions whether Kim Foxx was bullied or just simply manipulated by Avenatti and others,” Greenberg wrote. “The communications are key to uncovering answers.”

Kelly’s bid to travel to Dubai for a concert series also was put on hold. Kelly last month had requested permission from the judge to visit the gulf state nation for several concerts and potential meeting with “the Royal Family.” Gonzalez filed a motion protesting Kelly’s request, and noted in court that officials in Dubai’s recent denials that the singer ever had appearances slated there.

Kelly’s “crisis manager,” Darrell Johnson, said Kelly had an “agreement” but not a contract to make the trip, and said Kelly has no performances slated anywhere at present.

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