Witness struggles as R. Kelly trial turns to alleged early-2000s cover-up

The witness, using the pseudonym “Susan,” had difficulty with details and sometimes seemed at a loss for answers, particularly when asked why she let her daughter stay in contact with Kelly after rumors of Kelly’s abuse first surfaced.

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R. Kelly in June 2019 arriving at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago.

R. Kelly’s trial in federal court in Chicago enters a second week Monday. In this June 2019 file photo, Kelly is seen arriving at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for a hearing.

Associated Press

A crucial witness against R&B superstar R. Kelly struggled under cross-examination Monday as prosecutors in his latest trial turned jurors’ attention to an alleged early-2000s conspiracy to protect Kelly from swirling sexual abuse allegations.

After testimony last week focused on Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse of a teenage girl in the 1990s, it instead revolved Monday around allegations of intimidation, payoffs and even lie detector tests — and included hours of testimony about bank and credit card records.

But also called to the stand Monday was a woman who used the pseudonym “Susan.” Her daughter testified against Kelly last week and, using the pseudonym “Jane,” described alleged sexual abuse inflicted upon her by Kelly starting when she was around 14.

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While Jane seemed poised and confident throughout her testimony last week, Susan struggled with details and sometimes seemed at a loss for answers, particularly when asked why she let her daughter stay in contact with Kelly after rumors of Kelly’s abuse first surfaced.

Susan insisted that comments made by Kelly in the early 2000s left her family “very fearful, frightened.” But she later said under cross-examination that Kelly himself did not harass her. She acknowledged that her family continued a decades-long relationship with Kelly afterward, but she said they only did so because they had no other form of income.

Susan’s husband played guitar and worked for Kelly starting in the 1990s. Susan said he died last year.

Susan also gave a description of an emotional meeting between her family and Kelly at an Oak Park hotel in early 2002. It differed in ways from her daughter’s account last week.

Jane testified that Kelly dropped to his knees, grabbed his head and apologized to the family. She said he begged for her father’s forgiveness, asked the family not to turn on him and trailed them to an elevator. Jane said her father told Kelly, “I can’t help you.”

On Monday, Susan testified that she couldn’t remember if her daughter had even been present at the meeting. She said Kelly had been joined there by his manager — and now co-defendant — Derrel McDavid. Susan said Kelly “was just saying that he was sorry and he was crying,” but she clarified that he never admitted to wrongdoing.

Rather, she said Kelly was upset because the family was about to be dragged through the mud. Kelly was being accused of sexually abusing Jane on a video that would be sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper turned it over to police, and it later became central to a 2008 child pornography trial in which Kelly was acquitted.

Federal prosecutors now say Kelly cheated his way to that acquittal through intimidation and payoffs.

During the hotel meeting, Susan said Kelly and McDavid told her family, “Are you with us, or you’re not?” She said she took it to mean “that they were going to harm us.” She admitted she wound up lying to Cook County grand jurors, denying that her daughter appeared in the tape delivered to the Sun-Times.

Susan insisted Monday to Kelly defense attorney Jennifer Bonjean that Kelly “was a powerful man, so we had to protect my daughter.” But when asked if Kelly harassed her, Susan said, “no” and added, “He was just telling us that we were with him or without him.”

Jurors also spent hours Monday hearing from Jason Scharer, a special agent for IRS Criminal Investigation who walked them through bank and credit card records, vehicle purchases and hotel stays allegedly at the center of the effort to cover up Kelly’s abuse of Jane.

Among other things, jurors heard about $79,579 paid by Kelly’s various businesses to Jane’s parents between 2006 and 2012, years after the meeting at the Oak Park hotel. They also saw records from the family’s stay at an Atlantis resort in the Bahamas in early 2002.

The indictment against Kelly alleges that Kelly and McDavid sent them away “to make them unavailable to law enforcement” investigating Jane’s alleged abuse. But Susan agreed with Bonjean on Monday that Kelly sent the family on the trip to get them away from the media.

Scharer also testified about a $1.3 million settlement agreement between Kelly and McDavid, in which McDavid agreed not to make statements about “highly personal and confidential information” regarding Kelly.

A violation of that deal allegedly would have cost McDavid $100,000.

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