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R. Kelly team says evidence includes ‘extortion’ records, wants to see sex tape

R. Kelly earlier this year | Sun-Times file photo

Lawyers for R. Kelly want to see text messages and other communication between celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti and prosecutors, and still have not seen a VHS tape that allegedly shows the singer having sex with a 14-year-old girl nearly two decades ago.

But the defense say they have received bank records that they allege show “extortion efforts” targeting the singer.

The embattled singer arrived at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Tuesday for a brief hearing in the four sexual abuse cases against him. He was joined by his lawyer, Steve Greenberg, and several new additions to his legal team.

After the hearing, Greenberg told reporters that prosecutors had turned over hundreds of pages of evidence, including what he described as a 3-inch-thick stack of financial records showing what he said in court were “extortion efforts.”

Outside the courtroom, Greenberg told reporters he had not reviewed the documents and did not know if they showed cash had gone to witnesses or victims, or what the singer personally knew about them. Greenberg characterized the deals as “settlement agreements, with no admissions of wrongdoing.”

“As everybody knows, people over the years have approached people associated with Mr. Kelly, made allegations and kept the allegations quiet in exchange for monetary payoffs,” Greenberg told reporters. “I don’t know if Mr. Kelly was ever involved in that or if other people were involved in it on his behalf.”

Greenberg said the defense team still has not seen video evidence that is crucial to one of the cases against Kelly, which allegedly shows the singer having sex with a 14-year-old girl sometime between 1998 and 2001. The video appears to be from a VHS tape provided to prosecutors by Avenatti, who is representing several of Kelly’s alleged victims, and who claims to have investigated the singer with the aid of a former confidant of Kelly’s.

In the months since Avenatti turned the tape over to the state’s attorney’s office, Avenatti himself has been charged in two unrelated cases for allegedly attempting to extort money from athletic apparel company Nike, and for mishandling funds from a client’s settlement. Avenatti has denied wrongdoing, and Greenberg is arguing that Aventti is now a key witness in Kelly’s case.

“Everyone treats him like a lawyer in this case,” Greenberg said. “He’s a witness, so treat him like a witness. He’s out there, he says he’s got this tape, he’s a chain of custody witness.”

Greenberg has previously suggested that the tape may be the same one that formed the basis of Kelly’s 2002 prosecution on child pornography charges, a case in which the singer was acquitted after a lengthy trial in 2008.

On Wednesday, Kelly is due in court again, this time at the Daley Center in the Loop, for hearings in a child support dispute that already has seen the singer sent to jail over a delinquent six-figure payment, as well as for a civil lawsuit filed by one of the victims in his criminal case.

In the civil lawsuit, a woman identified as “H.W.” in one of his criminal cases is suing the singer, contending she had a sexual relationship with him for several months starting in 1998, after she was approached at a restaurant by a member of Kelly’s entourage while celebrating her 16th birthday.

Kelly failed to respond to the lawsuit, and last month, a default judgement was entered against him. Zaid Abdallah, one of three new attorneys who appeared with Kelly in court Tuesday, said Kelly would move to have that judgment vacated.