Prosecutors Begin Unusual Strategy Against R. Kelly

Singer is charged under RICO Act, more typically used for Mafia leaders
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2021 10:35 AM CDT
In This Trial, R. Kelly Isn't a Singer. He's 'the Godfather'
A 2013 photo of R. Kelly.   (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP, File)

Robert Sylvester Kelly goes on trial Monday in Brooklyn, accused of running a criminal enterprise. The 54-year-old is better known, of course, as R&B singer R. Kelly, and he's accused among other things of systematically recruiting underage girls for sex over the course of his long career. What's unusual about the trial is that prosecutors are going after him through RICO—the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—which is typically used for Mafia dons or cartel leaders. Coverage:

  • "They're trying to use a theory that typically applies to drug kingpins and cartels, and apply it to an ordinary band," a former Kelly attorney tells the Wall Street Journal. "It's not a sex case, it's a RICO case." The strategy is a "powerful weapon" because it will allow prosecutors to present what the Chicago Tribune describes as a "30,000-foot view" of Kelly's actions over decades. In fact, they'll be able to bring up allegations of uncharged crimes to demonstrate a pattern.
  • This appears to be "uncharted territory" in regard to the 1970 law, per the Tribune. Prosecutors are essentially saying that Kelly's team of staffers constituted a criminal enterprise when they went about securing women for the singer and assisting him in related ways. Just as Mafia bosses shielded themselves from charges prior to RICO by making underlings do their dirty work, prosecutors say Kelly acted in much the same way. "Here, R. Kelly is the Godfather," says an expert in RICO law not involved with the case.

  • Jury selection starts Monday, and opening arguments are scheduled to begin Aug. 18, per USA Today. Because of COVID, neither the public nor the media will be able to attend in person, unusual for a case of this magnitude, notes CNN. When testimony begins, jurors will be spread around the courtroom.
  • Kelly, in prison since 2019, faces decades in prison if convicted. And the Brooklyn trial is only the first for him. He's also charged in Minnesota and Illinois, per Vice. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.
  • If you need to catch up on the specific allegations, NPR has a timeline. Kelly is accused of having sex with minors, making child pornography, keeping victims in virtual slavery, illegally marrying the late singer Aaliyah when she was only 15, and much, much more.
(More R. Kelly stories.)

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