‘I said a million dollars’: Man testifies he helped R. Kelly hunt down sex tapes — for a price
Dressed in a blue suit and wearing sunglasses as he entered the courtroom, Charles Freeman grinned as he offered the most colorful testimony so far to jurors who have heard descriptions of everything from graphic sex abuse to dry bank records.
Charles Freeman wanted to make $1 million.
He thought he’d get it if he found a tape for R. Kelly in the early 2000s.
So, after striking a deal with Kelly’s private detective and business manager, Freeman knocked on a door near Atlanta and demanded the woman there give him the “mother f---ing tapes that ya’ll stole from Robert Kelly.”
After snatching it out of a VCR, Freeman said he took the tape elsewhere and watched it. He said he saw graphic sex acts committed by Kelly on a female who described her body as being 14 years old.
“I immediately made copies of the tape,” Freeman said.
He said he didn’t tell the police because the “police wasn’t going to pay me a million dollars.”
Full coverage of R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago:
- Follow the latest stories from the trial.
- Read more about why this trial is happening in the wake of Kelly’s New York sentence and how it connects to his 2008 Chicago trial.
- Meet the people in the courtroom and view a timeline of Kelly’s alleged crimes.
- Read through the Sun-Times’ original reporting on Kelly, including the story that led to the singer’s first indictment in 2002.
Now, Freeman has an immunity deal with prosecutors, who called him to the stand as Kelly’s latest trial in Chicago continued Tuesday. Dressed in a blue suit and wearing sunglasses as he entered the courtroom, Freeman grinned as he offered the most colorful testimony so far to jurors who have heard descriptions of everything from graphic sex abuse to dry bank records.
But defense attorneys told the judge during a break in a prosecutor’s questioning that Freeman had given “false testimony.” They said it would become clear when he is cross examined Wednesday.
Freeman never got his $1 million. Still, he described collecting more than a half-million dollars in payments that were usually made in cash, stuffed into brown bags or tossed through car windows, as he laid out his tale Tuesday.
Jurors could be seen leaning forward and taking careful notes throughout Freeman’s testimony. Federal prosecutors say Kelly cheated his way to an acquittal when he was charged with child pornography in the 2000s and taken to trial in 2008. Freeman is a key player in the obstruction-of-justice conspiracy now alleged against Kelly.
Kelly’s co-defendants, onetime business manager Derrel McDavid and former assistant Milton “June” Brown, are also charged for their alleged roles in the hunt for tapes of Kelly.
Freeman said it all began when Kelly reached out to him in 2001, asking him to recover some tapes that he’d lost. The singer told Freeman he’d be hearing from McDavid and a private investigator, Jack Palladino.
Palladino is now deceased.
Freeman said he had a series of conversations with McDavid and Palladino, who asked him to recover a “performance tape.” When Palladino asked him what he’d charge to do the job, Freeman told jurors, “I just threw a number.”
“I said a million dollars,” Freeman said.
The men continued to talk and meet in person, he said. They had a shouting match, and threats were made. Ultimately, he said he signed a contract with Palladino on Aug. 21, 2001, to recover the tape for $100,000 plus $40,000 in expenses. Still, Freeman said he thought he’d get the additional money based on an understanding with McDavid.
Freeman then went to the house near Atlanta, where he said he took three tapes. He said one was a “Disney tape” and another was a “family tape.” But Freeman’s description of the third matched two of the videos described last week by “Jane,” the woman who said she was sexually abused on camera by Kelly starting when she was 14 years old in the 1990s.
Freeman said he made three copies of that tape — containing what federal prosecutors allege to be child pornography — because he didn’t trust McDavid and Palladino to pay him.
It turns out McDavid and Palladino didn’t trust him either. Freeman said they made him take a lie detector test after he turned the tape over to them — he passed the test — and ultimately demanded he “bring that other tape that you have” when it came time to pay him.
Freeman said he met McDavid, Palladino and a third man — who made a show of putting a gun on a bed — in a hotel suite. There, he said he saw two brown bags.
“That ain’t no million dollars,” Freeman said he told them.
The men told him they couldn’t pay him the full $1 million until Kelly went to trial — a “rinky dink excuse,” Freeman said. He said he pulled out a copy of the videotape he’d tucked in the back of his pants and left the room with one bag of money.
He said he counted it on the elevator ride down. He said it contained only $75,000. But as the years went on, he said he continued to collect what were usually six-figure payments from McDavid and others.
Then, in 2003 or 2004, Freeman said McDavid and Palladino reached out to him again, hoping he’d help track down a copy of another video. At one point, he said McDavid and Brown showed him a few seconds of the video in question.
Freeman said it depicted sex acts involving Kelly, a young girl and a woman.
Based on information given to him by Kelly’s team, Freeman said he wound up speaking to a man named Keith Murrell, who had a copy of the video. He said he got it from the woman on the tape, who “didn’t want it to get out there.”
Freeman said Murrell let him see the video, and at one point he tried to make his own copy by recording the video with his cell phone. Then he gave the video back to Murrell.
In the years leading up to Kelly’s 2008 trial, Freeman said he kept trying to collect his $1 million, even at one point threatening to call a press conference about the case. He said his efforts led to a bizarre moment when McDavid asked him to join him naked in a pool to make sure he wasn’t wearing a wire.
Freeman collected some payments, but he said he ultimately decided to move on.
“I started living my life,” Freeman said.
Freeman said it was only in 2019 that he turned the remaining tapes over to his attorney, who then turned them over to the feds. Freeman said his attorney told him the police were coming — because he’d been holding “child porn for R. Kelly.”