More than a decade after surviving a high-profile child pornography trial, R. Kelly on Friday was back in police custody — this time accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls.
The embattled R&B singer was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He is expected to appear in bond court Saturday — one day after Cook County prosecutors alleged in an explosive indictment that the abuse involved four victims, at least three of them minors, from 1998 to 2010.
The minors were between 13 and 16, prosecutors said. Kelly is 52.
Surrounded by TV cameras, Kelly turned himself in to police about 8:15 p.m. at the Central District station on the Near South Side. Officers inside the station handcuffed Kelly and led him away.
After the singer’s surrender, defense attorney Steve Greenberg maintained his client’s innocence, claiming all of Kelly’s alleged victims are liars.
“I think all the women are lying, yes,” Greenberg said.
“Unfortunately the state’s attorney has now succumbed to public pressure,” Greenberg added. “Mr. Kelly is strong, he’s got a lot of support and he’s going to be vindicated on all these charges.”
Asked if Kelly is the man shown in three photos — purported to be from one of the alleged tapes of Kelly and an underage girl — released Friday afternoon by high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti, Greenberg said he doesn’t trust anything Avenatti says.
“I don’t know if it’s R. Kelly or not on those photos, but anyone can have photos,” Greenberg said. “I don’t put any credence in anything.”
Kelly had left his Near West Side studio about 7:45 p.m., surrounded by about a dozen members of his entourage and security guards, who left the building first and blocked out a path for the singer.
Dressed in a bright blue puffy coat and dark jeans, Kelly headed quickly to a waiting black Mercedes cargo van with tinted windows. He said nothing to the reporters who had waited outside the front door of the building at 219 N. Justine St. since shortly after the charges against him were announced.
“Is he inside? Do you have him inside?” one of the members of Kelly’s detail shouted as Kelly climbed inside the van. “Shut it. Let’s go.”
The van took off south on Justine, followed by several other vehicles and news crews.
Prosecutors had appeared Friday morning before Judge Dennis Porter, who approved a no-bail warrant for Kelly, records show.
At a news conference Friday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx briefly went through the charges against Kelly. Each count is a Class 2 felony, each of which can be punished by three to seven years in prison or as little as probation.
Foxx answered no questions at the news conference.
Later Friday, Greenberg had told reporters outside Kelly’s Near West Side studio that Kelly would be cleared.
“He’s going to go to bond court, and he’s gonna get out,” he said. “They’re making him a sacrificial lamb for their own sake and there’s no merit to any of this.”
Kelly has been dogged by allegations of sexual impropriety for two decades, charges that were first detailed by the Chicago Sun-Times. The indictment on Friday marks the first time he has been charged with any crimes since he was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008 in a case that received international attention.
In the 36-page indictment, prosecutors outline a variety of alleged sexual misconduct. The victims are identified only by their initials.
In one instance, Kelly allegedly ejaculated on the victim’s body “for the purpose of Robert Kelly’s or L.C.’s sexual gratification or arousal,” the indictment says.
In the three other instances, the victims performed oral sex on Kelly, the document says.
Avenatti said he recently provided a videotape to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Avenatti claimed the tape showed Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. At a news conference in Chicago Friday afternoon, Avenatti said he is representing at least one of the girls who were included in the indictment.
He declined to identify his client, noting she was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse. He also declined to say what his client told a grand jury investigating the singer.
“Today marks a watershed movement in the 25 years of abuse by this predator, R. Kelly,” Avenatti said.
He said Kelly was able to get away with the alleged abuse for years because the victims were girls who weren’t listened to and weren’t valued.
“These were the most vulnerable — yet this predator, Mr. Kelly, preyed on them,” he said.
And he ripped Kelly’s “enablers” — agents, bodyguards and other workers for Kelly — who “turned a blind eye while this occurred over two decades.”
Avenatti said he turned over the 40-minute video shot in 1999 at Kelly’s residence at the time. It allegedly showed the singer having sex with a teen girl. He did not say whether the video was part of the evidence used to indict Kelly.
“Repeatedly on the video, both the victim and Mr. Kelly refer to the victim’s age as being 14,” he said. He added: “This was in no way role playing . . . It is clear that this young lady was 14 years of age during the time when it was shot.”
Asked if he had a message to Kelly, Avenatti said:
“It is high-time that you face justice for the conduct you have engaged in for over two decades and don’t count on getting out of prison,” he said.
Shortly before the news conference started, Avenatti tweeted out photos purportedly taken from the tape. In one photo, a superimposed arrow points to a mole on a man’s back. When Kelly stood trial in 2008, his attorneys argued that he could not have been the man in a video played at that trial, because there was no visible mole on that person’s back.
The new charges against Kelly come less than two months after Foxx made a public plea for new Kelly accusers to come forward so that the office could investigate. Foxx said she was “sickened” by the accounts in the “Surviving R. Kelly” Lifetime television series. The Sun-Times reported that at least two women came forward after Foxx made her plea, although one later said she had declined to press charges.
A Sun-Times reporter told one of the women of Kelly’s criminal charges Friday afternoon, to which she replied: “Awesome. Thank God. That’s a blessing. I’m so happy.”
After Kelly surrendered to police, Greenberg slammed the Lifetime series and Avenatti when speaking to reporters.
“Everything in that documentary was a rehash of things they’ve known for years,” Greenberg said, blasting Foxx for being swayed by “grandstanders like Michael Avenatti.”
Several media outlets have reported that Kelly is also under federal investigation as well as under investigation in other cities.
Former Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis reported Thursday in the New Yorker that the U.S. attorney’s offices for the Southern and Eastern districts of New York, along with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, were investigating Kelly. Representatives for the federal offices could not be reached for comment Friday.
Another investigation by officials in Fulton County, Georgia is also active, though a representative for Fulton County prosecutor’s office said there was “no update” on the investigation as of Friday afternoon.
Gerald Griggs, an attorney for the family of Joycelyn Savage — one of the women featured in “Surviving R. Kelly” — told the Sun-Times that the FBI had been in recent contact with Savage’s family.
Griggs tweeted Friday: “After two years of extensive work, investigation, and a lot of prayer, my clients are hopeful that the recent charges against Robert Sylvester Kelly will lead to justice. We are ready to travel to Chicago to reunite the Savage family with #JoycelynSavage.”
The charges filed Friday are markedly different from those Kelly faced in 2002, when he was indicted for 21 counts of child pornography — and those differences are significant for the singer.
The child porn charges Kelly faced were based on a video of Kelly having sex with a girl who prosecutors said was as young as 13 at the time the tape was filmed. But the alleged victim in that case and her parents would not cooperate with investigators, and at trial, the girl’s parents denied their daughter was the girl on the tape.
Prosecutors so far have given little information about the evidence that was used for the latest charges. Though those charges are felonies, they would seem to involve sex acts — specifically, sexual penetration of the allegedly underage victims’ mouths and sex organs — that could have led to more serious counts, including sexual assault or statutory rape. Avenatti on Friday said the charges were “conservative” but praised prosecutors for a “well thought-out” indictment.
Greenberg said at least one of the cases cited includes in the indictment “seems to be a rehash of the conduct” he was acquitted of in 2008.
“Double jeopardy should apply to everyone,” Greenberg said. “Including R. Kelly.”
Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson, Savannah Eadens