R. Kelly convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking

By Veronica Rocha, Mike Hayes, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:34 PM ET, Mon September 27, 2021
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6:06 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

R. Kelly was convicted of racketeering. Here's what that means.

From CNN's Eric Levenson

Jurors have found R&B singer R. Kelly guilty of racketeering, including acts of bribery and sexual exploitation of a child, along with separate charges of sex trafficking.

Racketeering became a federal crime in 1970 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and the charge is best known as a tool to prosecute organized crime that affects interstate commerce. At the center of any racketeering case is the "enterprise," the group entity carrying out the illegal conduct, such as the mafia.

In this case, the enterprise is Kelly and his entourage, as well as his "managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners," according to the superseding indictment. Kelly is described as the leader of the enterprise.

"The purposes of the Enterprise were to promote R. Kelly's music and the R. Kelly brand, to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly and to produce pornography, including child pornography," the indictment states.

Kelly's defense attorney has criticized this aspect of the case against his client.

"We look forward to the truth and the facts coming to light as the defense will continue to vigorously defend Mr. Kelly," defense attorney Thomas Farinella said in a statement to CNN before the trial. "After all, the RICO 'Enterprise' is based on a series of independent relationships and events that the government is trying to patch together like different types of fabrics and trying to pass it off as silk."

Kelly was charged with racketeering that has 14 underlying acts: one act of bribery, three acts of sexual exploitation of a child, one act of kidnapping, three acts of forced labor and six acts of violating the Mann Act. The alleged crimes stretch from 1994 up to December 2018 and are based on incidents involving six anonymous "Jane Does," several of whom were underage.

To convict him of racketeering, prosecutors have to prove that Kelly committed at least two of these 14 underlying acts. Jurors found prosecutors had proven all but two of the 14 of them.

How racketeering benefits prosecutors: CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said it allowed them to charge a broader pattern of conduct that stretches over years and involves many participants. In addition, a racketeering case combines multiple victims' stories into one trial, which can create a #MeToo-like dynamic. The trials of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, though not racketeering, showed that having more witnesses testify about a pattern of alleged sexual misconduct can have a powerful impact on a jury.

Moira Penza, a former federal prosecutor who led the racketeering case against the cult-like group Nxivm, said the racketeering charge makes this trial very different from Kelly's previous one.

"Having the RICO (racketeering) charge, in particular, allows prosecutors to really give this aerial view over a long period of time at a very high level of who R. Kelly and his enterprise are, and the types of crimes that they've been committing and the ways in which they've committed those crimes – that's a very different case," Penza said. "You have a lot more evidence that is going to come in and be able to corroborate what the victims are saying."

4:41 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

Attorney for victims says R. Kelly is the "worst" predator she has ever pursued 

From CNN's Rob Frehse 

Attorney Gloria Allred speaks to the media at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, on Monday, in New York.
Attorney Gloria Allred speaks to the media at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, on Monday, in New York. (Brittainy Newman/AP)

Attorney Gloria Allred, who represented three of the six victims who testified in the case, said R. Kelly is the "worst" predator she has ever pursued.

"I have been practicing law for 47 years. During this time I have pursued many sexual predators who have committed crimes against women and children. Of all the predators that I have pursued, however, Mr. Kelly is the worst, for many reasons," she told reporters.

“First, he used the power of his celebrity to recruit vulnerable underage girls for the purpose of sexually abusing them. These were not May-October relationships, which is what his defense attorney wanted the jury to believe — these were crimes against children and some adults,” Allred said.

“Second, to use the power of his business enterprise and many of his inner circle employees to assist him and enable him in his plan and his scheme to lure his victims to him, isolate them, intimidate them, control them, indoctrinate them, punish them, shame them, and humiliate them. All of which made Mr. Kelly more powerful and more dangerous than many other sexual predators who operate without a network of financial and businesses to support and enable them,” Allred added.

She said another reason was that the government proved Kelly had genital herpes and did not disclose that information to victims or wear contraception to protect them.

"As a result, many of his victims contracted this STD from him and will be forced to suffer from it for the rest of their lives," Allred said.

The fourth reason, Allred said was in many cases "after grooming, isolating, and intimidating his child victims, recorded them being sexually abused and humiliated by them."

“He directed these videos and produced them, not only for his own sexual gratification but, in some instances, for the purpose of using these videos to silence and threaten his victims with public exposure of these tapes if they ever revealed what he had done to them. These tapes were not sex tapes: They were child pornography, which is a crime," she said.

Allred said she was proud of her clients who spoke up and told their truth during the trial.

“R Kelly thought that he could get away with all of this but he didn’t because despite the fact that he thought he could control all of his victims, he was wrong,” Allred said.

“Because of their courage and the outstanding work of federal agents and prosecutors in this case, justice has been done,” Allred added. “Let this be a message to other celebrities who also use their fame to prey on their fans and others who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with them: You’re also likely to face serious consequences for your criminal conduct."
5:32 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

Advocates say R. Kelly conviction brings justice for victims

Some advocates and organizations are reacting to the conviction of R. Kelly's on charges of racketeering and sex trafficking.

The group #MuteRKelly said it hopes that the verdict helps some of the survivors. The group's goal is to end the financial support of R. Kelly's career and help pave the way for his conviction for sexual abuse against young women.

"We hope this verdict brings some sense of justice to the brave survivors who came forward," #MuteRKelly said on Twitter.

April Reign, a diversity and inclusion advocate, tweeted, "FINALLY. R Kelly found guilty of racketeering, 'of being the ringleader of a decades-long scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex.'"

Dream Hampton, one of the executive producers of the Netflix documentary series "Surviving R. Kelly," said, "I'm so grateful that his survivors sat for our cameras. Those interviews weren't easy to do. I hope this verdict is a step in the direction of their long healing journeys. "

4:18 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

Acting US attorney: "Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator"

Acting US Attorney from the Eastern District Jacquelyn M. Kasulis speaks during a news conference following R. Kelly’s guilty verdict on September 27.
Acting US Attorney from the Eastern District Jacquelyn M. Kasulis speaks during a news conference following R. Kelly’s guilty verdict on September 27. (WABC)

R. Kelly will be forever branded a predator after today’s verdict, the Acting US Attorney from the Eastern District Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said outside court after the verdict was read.

“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator, who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification,” Kasulis said.

Kelly is “a predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls and young men and women for decades, in a sordid web of sex abuse, exploitation and humiliation,” Kasulis added.

Kasulis thanked the victims for bravely coming forward and telling their stories.

“To the victims in this case, your voices were heard and justice was finally served,” Kasulis said.

 “This conviction would not have been possible without the bravery and resilience of R. Kelly’s victims. I applaud their courage in revealing in open court, the painful, intimate and horrific details of their lives with him,” Kasulis said. “No one deserves what they experienced at his hands or the threats or harassment they faced about telling the truth about what happened to them.”

“We hope that today’s verdict bring some measure of comfort and closure to the victims,” she added.

4:04 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

R. Kelly did not expect this verdict, his attorney says

From CNN’s Sonia Moghe and Mark Morales

Singer R. Kelly did not have any reaction to the verdict when it was read in court and according to his attorney, Kelly was not expecting this verdict.

Moments after the verdict was read, Kelly’s attorney Deveraux Cannick said outside of court that the government “cherry-picked” evidence to support its narrative.

“You didn’t get to see what we saw in terms of the discovery. You didn’t get to see all the inconsistencies,” Cannick said. “We said in our summation that the government cherry-picked their version that they thought would support the continuation of the narrative.” 

Cannick continued, “Why would he expect this verdict given all the inconsistencies that we saw.”

4:04 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

What we know about the jury that convicted R. Kelly

R. Kelly sits as the jury foreman reads the guilty verdict in Kelly's trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in New York, on Monday, September 27.
R. Kelly sits as the jury foreman reads the guilty verdict in Kelly's trial at Brooklyn's Federal District Court in New York, on Monday, September 27. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

Moments ago, a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, announced it found R&B singer R. Kelly guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking charges.

The jury was made up of seven men and five women. The began deliberating on Friday afternoon and continued today before returning their verdict.

Throughout the trial, the jurors were the only members of the public allowed inside the court room — an unusual move for a trial of this magnitude. The public and media had been unable to watch in person, and instead, those who wanted to watch the proceedings were funneled into overflow courtrooms on a different floor.

Jurors were shown key audio and video evidence that no one else was able to see: Journalists and the public could not raise their objections with the judge as prosecutors began showing the evidence to the jurors, who were wearing headphones.

The recordings — which US District Judge Ann Donnelly described in court as "somewhat upsetting" — were shown to jurors on Sept. 15. The public could not see jurors' reactions to them and did not know what they contained, aside from two recordings discussed in a Sept. 14 filing from prosecutors.

3:52 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

A look back at some key moments from R. Kelly's five-week trial

From CNN's Sonia Moghe

Fifty prosecution and defense witnesses took the stand during the five-week trial, including victims who were identified as "Jane Does" in Kelly's indictments. There were 45 prosecution witnesses.

Jane Doe 1 was the singer Aaliyah, who died in 2001.

Jurors heard from multiple witnesses who were present at her marriage to Kelly on August 31, 1994, when he was 27 and she was 15. Prosecutors showed copies of the couple's marriage license application, which listed Aaliyah's age as 18 at the time of their wedding, as well as their marriage license and marriage certification.

Kelly's former tour manager, Demetrius Smith, testified reluctantly that he bribed a worker at a welfare office in the Chicago area to create a welfare ID for Aaliyah.

"I made her (the welfare office worker) an offer and she took the money," Smith testified. "I gave her $500."

While the ID did not list Aaliyah's date of birth, an Illinois official testified on September 15 that, generally, a person has to be at least 18 to obtain that particular type of ID.

Nathan Edmond, a minister who married the two, spoke publicly for the first time about the marriage while testifying Sept. 1 said he met the couple the day he married them.

"I didn't think it was anybody special. I didn't understand it at all," Edmond testified.

Jurors also heard from a woman who identified herself only as Stephanie, who said she met Kelly at an event in Chicago in 1999 when she was 17, and that he eventually invited her to his studio.

"I remember him asking me my age," Stephanie testified. "When I said I was 17, he said it was fine."

Stephanie testified that Kelly sexually abused her when she was 17, and recorded them having sex. He paid for her travel to Florida to meet him on her 18th birthday and she stopped speaking with him shortly after the trip. She described fearing his angry outbursts, saying he would yell at her in public places.

A former radio intern who identified herself as Sonja testified that Kelly invited her to travel to Chicago to interview him at his studio in 2003 when she was 21 and that once she arrived, an employee put her in a room that Sonja quickly realized was "locked from the outside." She said she was kept in the room for several days, occasionally let out to go to the bathroom and shower.

"The door was locked. I wanted to get out," Sonja testified.

Sonja testified she lost consciousness after eating her first meal in days and saw Kelly adjusting his pants when she woke up. She testified that she believed he sexually assaulted her when she was unconscious.

"I was sexually assaulted," Sonja testified. "There was something in me that wasn't wanted."

Read more about how the trial unfolded here.

3:39 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

R. Kelly will be sentenced on May 4

R&B singer R. Kelly will be sentenced on May 4 in connection with racketeering and sex trafficking charges.

A jury, made up of seven men and five women, found him guilty today in federal court. They began deliberating on Friday afternoon.

An attorney for Kelly said the attorney is considering filing an appeal and is disappointed in the verdict.

4:45 p.m. ET, September 27, 2021

R. Kelly found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking

R. Kelly attends a hearing in Chicago, in 2019.
R. Kelly attends a hearing in Chicago, in 2019. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)

R&B singer R. Kelly has been convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking charges by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York.

In this federal case in the Eastern District of New York, Kelly faced a total of nine counts — one count of racketeering, with 14 underlying acts that included sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, bribery, and sex trafficking charges and also faced eight additional counts of violations of the Mann Act, a sex trafficking law.

The jury, made up of seven men and five women, began deliberating on Friday afternoon.

In all, Kelly could face decades in prison at sentencing.

The verdict comes 13 years after Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was acquitted of child pornography charges at an Illinois state trial.

Watch more here: