R Kelly Charged With 10 Counts of Aggravated Sexual Abuse

February 22, 2019 Updated: February 22, 2019

CHICAGO—R. Kelly was charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse on Feb. 22, after decades of lurid rumors and allegations that the R&B star was sexually abusing women and underage girls.

Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, confirmed to The Associated Press the charges had been filed against the 52-year-old Grammy winner but declined to say the specific number. Media reports said there were 10 counts, at least some involving underage victim or victims.

A message seeking comment from R. Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, wasn’t immediately returned.

Over the years, Kelly has consistently denied any sexual misconduct.

R. Kelly performs at MSG Theater
R. Kelly performs at MSG Theater in New York City on Nov. 21, 2012. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, is one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, with hits such as “I Believe I Can Fly,” and his arrest sets the stage for another #MeToo-era celebrity trial. Bill Cosby went to prison last year, and former Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein is awaiting trial.

Kelly was charged a week after Michael Avenatti, the attorney whose clients have included adult video star Stormy Daniels, said he recently gave Chicago prosecutors new video evidence of the singer engaging in illegal acts with an underage girl. It was not immediately clear if the charges were connected to that video.

In 2008, a jury acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges over a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him sexually abusing a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly depicted with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them, and she did not take the stand. Kelly could have gotten 15 years in prison.

Legally and professionally, the walls began closing in on Kelly more recently after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and, last month, the multipart Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” Together they detailed allegations he was holding women against their will and running a “sex cult.”

After the latest documentary, Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, said she was “sickened” by the allegations and asked potential victims to come forward.

#MeToo activists and a social media movement using the hashtag #MuteRKelly called on streaming services to drop Kelly’s music and promoters not to book any more concerts. And protesters demonstrated outside Kelly’s Chicago studio.

Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, said earlier this year that his client was the victim of a TV hit piece and that Kelly “never knowingly had sex with an underage woman, he never forced anyone to do anything, he never held anyone captive, he never abused anyone.”

Avenatti said his office was retained last April by people regarding allegations of sexual assault of minors by Kelly. He said the video surfaced during a 10-month investigation. He told the AP that the person who provided the VHS tape knew both Kelly and the female in the video.

Despite accusations that span decades, the singer and songwriter who rose from poverty on Chicago’s South Side has retained a sizable following. He has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga. His collaborators have included Jay-Z and Usher.

Kelly broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, “12 Play,” which produced sex-themed songs such as “Bump N’ Grind” and “Your Body’s Callin.'”

R Kelly
Singer R. Kelly attends the Brooklyn Nets vs the Atlanta Hawks at The Barclays Center in New York City on Nov. 17, 2015. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Months after those successes, the then-27-year-old Kelly faced allegations he married 15-year-old Aaliyah, the R&B star who later died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. Kelly was the lead songwriter and producer of Aaliyah’s 1994 debut album.

Kelly and Aaliyah never confirmed the marriage, though Vibe magazine published a copy of the purported marriage license. Court documents later obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times showed Aaliyah admitted lying about her age on the license.

Jim DeRogatis, a longtime music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, played a key role in drawing the attention of law enforcement to Kelly. In 2002, he received the tape in the mail that was central to Kelly’s 2008 trial. He turned it over to prosecutors. In 2017, DeRogatis wrote a story for BuzzFeed about the allegations Kelly was holding women against their will in Georgia.

By Sara Burnett

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