Federal prosecutors in New York on Wednesday asked for a sentence “in excess of 25 years” in prison for convicted singer R. Kelly, saying his racketeering conviction was part of a “long and pervasive history of enticing children to engage in sexual activity.”
Kelly, 55, one of the biggest music stars Chicago has ever produced, was convicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn in September of racketeering conspiracy and eight other counts alleging the singer used his organization to lure and trap girls, boys and young women to satisfy his sexually predatory desires.
In addition to the main count of racketeering, the jury found Kelly guilty on all eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits travel over state lines for illegal sex.
In asking U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly to sentence Kelly to more than 25 years in prison, prosecutors said in a 31-page sentencing memo that his recording career allowed him to take “advantage of his access to adoring fans and musical hopefuls who jumped at the chance to meet him.”
“He lured young girls and boys into his orbit, often through empty or conditioned promises of assistance in developing a career in the entertainment industry or simply by playing into the minors’ understandable desire to meet and spend time with a popular celebrity,” prosecutors wrote.
As the leader of his enterprise, Kelly felt emboldened to commit his criminal acts “in plain sight,” and employ others to help recruit women and girls and satisfy his sexual whims, prosecutors said.
Kelly’s crimes also were not “aberrational” but his regular way of operating, “which he had no intention of ceasing,” prosecutors wrote. It continued even after he was indicted on child pornography charges in Cook County, a case that ended with his acquittal in 2008.
“If anything, the (Kelly’s) acquittal after his state trial appears to have emboldened the defendant with a belief that he was untouchable and, over the next decade, the (his) crimes continued unabated,” the prosecution memo stated.
Kelly, who has been in custody since his arrest in July 2019, is scheduled to be sentenced June 29 in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
Federal defendants must serve 85% of their sentence, so if Kelly were to receive 25 years in prison, with credit for the time he’s already been locked up, he’d be out when he’s 72.
Kelly’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, is expected to file her own sentencing recommendation next week, including personal circumstances and characteristics of Kelly’s background that she will use to argue for a lighter sentence.
Last month, Bonjean argued that federal sentencing guidelines actually call for a term of 14 years to 17 ½ years behind bars, and that Kelly in fact should be given a sentence below those guidelines.
Among other arguments, Bonjean said the singer should not be eligible for a higher sentencing guideline for exercising “undue influence” over Jerhonda Johnson Pace, who testified she was 16 when she began to have sexual contact with Kelly.
“The trial record refutes any suggestion that Defendant did anything in altering the behavior of Jerhonda. Quite the opposite. Jerhonda, a sophisticated 16-year-old, took great pains to get close to Defendant, including by misrepresenting her age,” the defense filing stated. “Defendant did nothing to seek out Jerhonda.”
In all, the seven-man, five-woman jury found Kelly guilty of 12 individual criminal acts involving the racketeering scheme, including sex with multiple underage girls as well as a 1994 scheme to bribe an Illinois public aid official to get a phony ID for 15-year-old singer Aaliyah so the two could get illegally married.
The trial, which was delayed several times by the COVID-19 pandemic, lasted more than a month and featured testimony from some 50 witnesses, including a number of alleged victims who told the jury that Kelly manipulated and controlled them and forced them to have sex with him and others — often on videotape.
Among the evidence seen by the jury was a videotape depicting the singer spanking a young woman and forcing her to parade naked in front of him. Audio excerpts of the recording were later ordered released to the media by the judge.
“Keep your eyes closed,” Kelly can be heard saying at one point. “Eyes open? Guess what — we start over.”
Kelly’s instruction was followed by the sound of a series of slaps, and the woman could be heard sobbing. Afterward, she is heard weeping as Kelly makes her say, over and over, “I’m a stupid (expletive) daddy, I want you to fix me.”
The legal woes for the Grammy-winning singer, whose hits include 1996′s “I Believe I Can Fly,” will not be over even with his sentencing later this month.
He also faces a pending trial in August in Chicago’s federal courthouse, where prosecutors allege he and two others fixed his 2008 trial in Cook County, as well as four separate indictments alleging sexual abuse that are still pending at Chicago’s Leighton Criminal Court Building. Kelly also faces a solicitation case in state court in Minnesota.
Kelly, if given the chance, would certainly abuse more victims, federal prosecutors wrote in this week’s memo: “His actions were brazen, manipulative, controlling and coercive. He has shown no remorse or respect for the law.”
Kelly had enough money and influence to give payouts to previous victims instead of facing them in criminal proceedings, and even his Cook County child pornography case did not deter him from further criminal acts, prosecutors wrote. Kelly was acquitted on those charges in 2008, but “there can be no doubt that the defendant was then on notice as to the criminality of such behavior, its seriousness and the penalties he faced for engaging in any such conduct,” they said.
Prosecutors are seeking a fine of up to $250,000, along with the recommended 25-year sentence. That kind of prison time would “incapacitate” Kelly until he is in his 70s, they wrote.
“Given the need for specific deterrence and incapacitation, the government respectfully submits that a shorter sentence would be insufficient to adequately protect the public,” the filing states.