R&B singer R. Kelly is a “predator” who used his fame — and an army of devoted associates — to sexually exploit “girls, boys and young women” who he made call him “Daddy,” a federal prosecutor told jurors at the start of his racketeering and sex crimes trial on Wednesday.
Kelly, 54, distributed backstage passes so children and women would join him after shows, then got them alone and “dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically,” Brooklyn Assistant US Attorney Maria Melendez said.
The “I Believe I Can Fly” singer even recorded sex acts with minors as part of the sick scheme, beat some victims, locked one in a room for several days and gave at least two of them herpes while knowingly infected with the sexually transmitted disease, she said.
“This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot,” Cruz Melendez told the seven-man, five-woman jury.
“This case is about a predator who used his fame, popularity, and network to target, groom and exploit girls, boys and young women for his own sexual gratification.”
She added: “He used his money, clout and public persona to hide his crimes in plain sight.”
The prosecutor also detailed a series of allegations against Kelly, including that he and members of his entourage bribed an official in Chicago to obtain a fake ID for the late singer Aaliyah, so they could get married when he was 27 and she was just 15.
Aaliyah — who died in a plane crash at 22 — had told Kelly she was pregnant and he hatched the wedding plan in a bid to prevent her from testifying against him, Cruz Melendez said during her opening statement.
The prosecutor said a woman identified only as “Sonja” met Kelly while working as an intern for a Salt Lake City radio station when she was 22.
Kelly allegedly flew her to Chicago under the pretense of giving her an interview but she wound up locked in a room at his recording studio for three days.
At one point, the woman was given some cold Chinese food and a Coke, then she passed out a short time later and awoke without her underwear on while Kelly was “doing up his pants,” Cruz Melendez said.
“She felt a wetness between her legs and she knew she had been sexually abused in some way,” the prosecutor said.
Another accuser, identified only as “Faith,” accused Kelly of approaching her in San Antonio when she was 19 and when he was 50, after which she traveled around the country with him, Cruz Melendez said.
Faith alleges that Kelly once led her into a small room and told her to get undressed and that she noticed a gun nearby, after which Kelly allegedly forced her to perform oral sex on him,” the prosecutor said.
Faith has also accused Kelly of giving her herpes after knowing he had the disease, which is a crime in New York and California.
Kelly faces nine counts of racketeering and violations of the Mann Act, a 1910 law that makes it a crime to transport “any woman or girl” across state lines for any “immoral purpose.”
If convicted as charged, Kelly — who has pleaded not guilty — would face 10 years to life in prison.
During the defense opening statement, lawyer Nicole Blank Becker told jurors that Kelly’s accusers would tell them “a mess of lies,” adding, “Don’t assume everybody’s telling the truth.”
Blank Becker also said some of the accusers had relished the “notoriety of being able to tell their friends that they were with a superstar.”
“He didn’t recruit them. They were fans. They came to Mr. Kelly,” she said.
“They knew exactly what they were getting into. It was no secret Mr. Kelly had multiple girlfriends. He was quite transparent.”
The case has been delayed multiple times as the singer, real name Robert Sylvester Kelly, made changes to his legal team.
His trial, which is expected to last about a month, is being conducted without any spectators or reporters in the courtroom, with federal Judge Ann Donnelly citing concerns tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Grammy-winning singer is being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, the notorious federal lockup where Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and alleged accomplice of the late financier and pedophile Jeffery Esptein, is also jailed.
Kelly’s detention in New York came after the NYPD and federal authorities arrested him in Chicago in the summer of 2019.
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