Singer R. Kelly seeks appeals court relief from 30-year prison term

NEW YORK — R. Kelly’s lawyer told an appeals court on Monday that all kinds of legitimate organizations — even college associations — could be considered racketeering organizations under a law used to convict R.&B superstar during his trial in Brooklyn against decades of sexual abuse of young fans, including children.

Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, seeking to overturn his 2021 convictions or win a new trial, tried to convince three judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that prosecutors had improperly used a racketeering statute that was written to stop organized crime from going after crime. singer.

She said it was unfair that prosecutors accused Kelly, 57, of running a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) enterprise from 1994 to 2018, made up of individuals who promoted his music and recruited women and girls to participate to illegal sexual activities and to produce child pornography.

“This was not a collection of people with a purpose to recruit girls for sexual abuse or child pornography,” Bonjean said. “Whether they turned a blind eye, whether some of them suspected that some of these girls were underage, that’s a whole different matter.

“And once we get into that kind of territory where we’re going to say this is a RICO venture, well, we have a lot of organizations – we have a lot of frat houses – we have all kinds of organizations that are now going to become RICO ventures,” said them in support of the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling songwriter.

The judges did not immediately rule but left plenty of questions for Bonjean and a prosecutor who defended the government’s handling of the case, which resulted in a 30-year prison sentence in June 2022.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kayla Bensing said Kelly’s network of assistants and associates was part of the singer’s “system that lured young people into his environment” before he “took over their lives.”

During the trial, several women testified that they were ordered to sign confidentiality forms and were subjected to threats and punishments, such as violent beatings, if they broke what was called “Rob’s rules.”

Some judges questioned whether the employees were aware of Kelly’s illegal activities with teenage girls.

“What evidence is there that the staff handling these cases knew they were minors?” Judge Denny Chin asked.

The prosecution responded by citing numerous testimonies, including one in which a woman testified that she told a member of Kelly’s entourage that she was 16 when he asked her age. Others knew that some of the girls were under 18 because they had booked flights for them and the girls had to provide their dates of birth, she noted.

“So this is all evidence that the jury could have rightly concluded that Kelly’s inner circle knew what was going on. That he recruited and retained underage women for sexual activity,” Bensing said.

“Company members learned that Kelly was beating his girlfriends, they knew that Kelly isolated his victims and they assisted him in this, including by enforcing his punishments such as watching over them while they were on a bus for extended periods of time.” she added.

Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is known for her work, including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multi-part story of sexual betrayal and intrigue.

He was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums, even after allegations of his abuse of young girls began to circulate publicly in the 1990s. He was acquitted of child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, but a second trial in Chicago in 2022 ended with his conviction on charges of producing child pornography and enticing girls to have sex.

Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct only emerged during the #MeToo reckoning and peaked after the release of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”