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‘Just a strange place,’ former R. Kelly employee says of singer’s home

The singer ordered employees to report any visitors “wandering around” outside of their designated rooms.

BROOKLYN (CN) — A former runner for R. Kelly compared working for the singer to being in the Twilight Zone during testimony on Friday, noting that other gigs he has worked — with Taylor Swift, Jay-Z and Kanye West — were “normal” in comparison. 

Testimony has described a tightly controlled environment at Kelly’s Olympia Fields, Illinois residence and recording studio, where Anthony Navarro began working in the summer of 2007. 

Now a 36-year-old music producer and smoothie shop owner, Navarro cleaned, ordered food and ran errands for Kelly and his associates — including picking up and driving around female visitors. 

Navarro said most visitors seemed to be in their early twenties, though he once witnessed two girls who appeared to be in their mid-teens hopping the fence and running across Kelly’s lawn. 

If any of Kelly’s visitors were outside of their designated rooms in the singer’s home, Navarro said he was instructed to alert Kelly or one of his managers. 

“They weren’t supposed to be wandering around,” he said. “They weren’t supposed to leave the room.”

Kelly, 54, is charged with racketeering and Mann Act violations that include kidnapping and coercing women, including minors, into a sex ring that lasted for decades. Prosecutors say Kelly used the people close to him to conduct the illicit acts. 

Navarro said his work for other celebrities was focused on producing music, in contrast to being asked to do personal favors for Kelly, like tend bar at his parties and pick up his herpes medication from a Walgreens in Chicago. 

Past the entrance of Kelly’s home, things got weird, Navarrao said. 

“It was a weird time for me. The things you had to do was just a bit uncomfortable,” he said. “The music and production stuff was really good. All the other stuff was kind of strange.” 

“It was almost like 'The Twilight Zone,'” he explained. “You went into the gate and you’re in this different world that was just a strange place.” 

Navarro testified that he witnessed Kelly verbally abusing his staff, and said female visitors would call him “Daddy,” one of the alleged rules Kelly gave to victims. 

Still, if anyone wanted to leave, “they could walk out the door,” Navarro said during cross-examination by defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker. 

Later on Friday, Kelly’s former personal assistant and tour manager told the court he helped to procure two fake IDs for the singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old so that Kelly, amid a pregnancy scare, could marry her. 

Demetrius Smith did not want to testify, and said he planned to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights, but an October 2019 order from U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf promised him immunity, saying he was “likely to refuse to testify” but had information that may be necessary in Kelly’s trial. 

Smith described meeting Kelly when “he was a youngster” in 1984, and the two worked together for more than a decade. He said he had concerns that Kelly and Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Haughton, were “too friendly” and that Kelly might be “seducing” the underage girl. 

“You ain’t messing with Aaliyah, nothing like that?” Smith recalled asking Kelly “He said no and I believed him.” 

It was in 1994 that Kelly, 27 at the time, came to Smith concerned that Aaliyah was pregnant. The singer was about to take the stage at a show in Orlando, Florida, and told Smith he needed to get home immediately afterward. 

“He was concerned,” Smith said of Kelly, and cried as they traveled back to Chicago. Kelly was afraid of going to jail, Smith testified, and said he wanted to marry the underage girl “to protect himself, to protect Aaliyah.” 

Smith said he then bribed a welfare office employee with $500 to create a fake ID for Aaliyah so that she and Kelly could get a marriage license. 

“Everybody needs some money,” Smith said, and it didn’t take him long to find someone willing to accept the money. 

“I went inside, felt my way around, I approached a person and she agreed,” he said. Aaliyah was photographed, received the ID, and she and Kelly were later married in a hotel suite. 

Smith several times became agitated with the court procedure. 

“I feel like I’m on trial for Aaliyah,” he said at one point. “Shit.” 

“I’m running out of patience,” said U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly, after repeatedly reminding Smith to answer the questions asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez. 

Smith later said he was uncomfortable discussing the situation. 

“Her parents are not here and I don’t understand why I gotta do that,” he said, meaning to testify about the late singer. 

Melendez’s direct examination of Smith will continue when the trial resumes on Monday.

Follow Nina Pullano on Twitter.

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