R&B music star R. Kelly was found guilty Monday (Sept. 27) of racketeering and sex trafficking by a federal jury in Brooklyn. The jurors delivered the verdict just two days after deliberations began. The singer may receive a sentence from 10 years to life in prison.
Kelly was accused of recruiting managers and aids to help him engage in sexually exploitative relationships with young women and underage girls. He faced nine counts and was found guilty on all of them. The pattern of abuse described by witnesses in the trial dates back decades, but recently gained public attention once again following the 2019 release of the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which features interviews with a number of his victims.
The circle of people the music star surrounded himself amounted to a criminal racketeering enterprise, prosecutors argued, as they helped connect Kelly with his victims and kept them from speaking out against the singer. Under US code, racketeering refers to any act or threat including bribery, extortion, or dealing in obscene matter carried out through coordinated illegal means. In this case prosecutors argued that Kelly used his inner circle in order help him carry out 14 different acts, including bribery, kidnapping, and forced labor.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez argued in her opening statement for the prosecution that Kelly used “lies, manipulation, threats, and physical abuse” to control his victims, and that the case was not about a celebrity, but a predator. Kelly’s lawyer Nicole Blank Becker said his relationships with the accusers were consensual.
Kelly was also found guilty on eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits trafficking people across state lines for sex.
The singer will face another federal trial in Illinois which involves charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice.
For years Kelly sustained his music career despite the sexual abuse allegations. While his music is rarely heard on the radio anymore it is still available on major streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music—for now.