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R. Kelly hit with 21 counts of child porn; Fans chant ‘We love you’

Chicago Police Supt. Terry G. Hillard and Cook County State's Attorney Richard A. Devine announce on Wednesday afternoon that they have filed charges against Robert Kelly, more commonly known as R. Kelly, for engaging 21 counts of child pornography. | Sun-Times file

It was an arrest unbefitting the man some regard as “The World’s Greatest” R&B star.

Multiplatinum superstar R. Kelly was handcuffed and thrown in a police car in front of his Florida home Wednesday after a Cook County grand jury indicted him on 21 counts of child pornography for a video that appears to show him engaging in sex acts with a 14-year-old girl.

Kelly’s attorney Ed Genson thought he had struck a deal for Kelly to surrender to Chicago police in a more dignified fashion.

But even as Genson and police were ironing out a deal for Kelly to report to his office at noon today, Chicago Chief of Detectives Phil Cline was declaring at a news conference: “As soon as we see Mr. Kelly, he’ll be placed in handcuffs. We’re not going to treat R. Kellyany different than anybody else.”

Kelly’s arrest warrant was put on the national crime database and sheriff’s deputies in Polk County, Fla.–where Kelly has lived for the last six months with his wife and three children–sprang into action.

A crowd of 15 fans cheered, “We love you, R. Kelly” as he was led in handcuffs into a sheriff’s substation in Winter Haven, Fla.

I love you,” Kelly told the fans as he waved with a hand cuffed behind his back.

The singer was unshaven and sported white Nike shoes, a blue Nike sweatshirt, blue sweatpants and denim bucket hat.

Asked by a throng of reporters about the charges, Kelly said, “Not right now, guys.”

Kelly was issued the standard orange jail jumpsuit but placed in a private cell. He arrived too late for the 4:30 p.m. dinner.

Kelly later issued a statement: “Even though I don’t believe any of these charges are warranted, I’m grateful that I will have a chance to establish the truth about me in a court of law. I have complete faith in our system of justice, and I’m confident that when all the facts come out, people will see that I’m no criminal.”

Genson complained that police “double-crossed” him before Kelly could surrender in Chicago. Genson and the Rev. James Meeks, who has come to be Kelly’s “spiritual adviser” in recent weeks, planned to charter a plane to Florida and try to get Kelly transferred to Illinois today.

For three years, police have investigated allegations that R. Kelly has had sex with the 14-year-old daughter of an associate and other underage girls. Then in February, the Sun-Times received a videotape from an anonymous source that appears to show Kelly and the 14-year-old girl involved in various sex acts, including urination. The Sun-Times turned the tape over to the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit.

“The fact that he is a celebrity is of no importance to us,” Police Supt. Terry Hillard said Wednesday. “The fact that children have been harmed as a result of his actions is extremely important to us.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine said the indictment should “send a message to sexual predators that taking advantage of minors will not be tolerated.”

Five women, two of them underage, have sued Kelly, alleging he coerced them into sexual relationships or committed inappropriate sexual acts with them. One girl said Kelly coaxed her into having an abortion. Another said Kelly filmed their sex without her knowledge on a tape that has been bootlegged for sale on street corners across America.

In 1994, Kelly briefly married up-and-coming singer Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27. He was never prosecuted.

Asked several times why Kelly was charged only with child pornography and not with having sex with minors, Devine said repeatedly that “the investigation continues,” leaving the door open to the possibility that the grand jury could consider more charges if more evidence turns up.

Genson said he will argue that the girl on the videotape is not the daughter, now 17, of a Kelly associate. Since the girl in the tape was 18 or older, Genson insisted, it does not matter whether the man in the tape is Kelly or not, since no crime was committed.

The attorney said Kelly has not made any sort of settlement deal with the girl in the tape.

Genson blasted Devine and the police department, saying they must have scuttled the more polite Kelly surrender for the publicity.

“I do not intend to sacrifice R. Kelly on the altar of Mr. Devine’s political career,” Genson declared.

“I have been defending people for 35 years. Any ordinary person indicted for child pornography in this kind of case would have been freed on a $100 bond or a $200 bond. They went in front of the [presiding] judge and asked for a $750,000 bond and never represented to him that he had voluntarily agreed to surrender.

“I don’t know if it was his race, I don’t know if it was his celebrity, but we were double-crossed.”

Police apologized to Genson but explained that once an arrest warrant goes out on the National Crime Information Center database, they can’t stop officers around the country from executing the warrants. However, the warrant shows that a Chicago police official called Polk County authorities Wednesday to alert them.

Kelly was arrested in front of his house without incident as he sat in a friend’s Ford van.

“When you have a high-profile celebrity like Mr. Kelly, it is better to wait for him to leave his house,” said Kim Garrett, spokeswoman for the Polk County sheriff’s office. “We didn’t know how many people were in the house or whether weapons were inside. Safety is our first concern. We watched for him to leave the house.”

Meenu Gill, 38, a neighbor of the home Kelly rented in Davenport, Fla., said Kelly spent a lot of time with “buddies,” sitting in a running car in front of the house or driving off with them. She said he didn’t interact with his three kids much, except to sometimes help them get into the car.

She saw him Wednesday at 8 a.m. As the nanny attended to the kids, he got into his black SUV with a male friend and left.

The nature of the charges shocked her, considering she has two daughters, 7 and 9, and a 12-year-old son.

“I’m a little scared,” Gill said. “I have kids of my own. No one ever knew.”

The 21 counts cover seven sex acts recorded on the tape and the three different sections of the state’s child pornography law that prosecutors say they violate.

The last high-profile person in the Chicago area prosecuted for having sex with an underage girl was former Rep. Mel Reynolds. He was also defended by Genson.

In that case, as in this one, the underage girl denied she was a victim. In the Reynolds case, prosecutors put the young woman in jail for 13 days until she agreed to testify.

Hillard delivered a warning for the thousands of people who may have bought or sold copies of the bootleg R. Kelly tape purportedly showing him with the 14-year-old girl.

“Anyone who is selling this tape and anyone who is in possession of this tape is in possession of child pornography,” Hillard said. “It would be my advice to dispose of the tape.”

Contributing: Frank Main, Annie Sweeney, the Lakeland Ledger