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R. Kelly Friend Accused of Witness Intimidation Pleads Guilty to Arson

Michael Williams admitted to setting fire to a rental car parked outside the home of one of the singer's alleged victims.

BROOKLYN (CN) — An associate of R. Kelly pleaded guilty to arson Monday, saying he set fire to an SUV parked outside the residence of a woman who says the former R&B singer abused her. 

The plea in Brooklyn federal court follows a trio of indictments unsealed in August 2020 that accuse members of Kelly’s inner circle of trying to stamp out claims that he ran a sex ring of women and underage girls. 

Addressing the court remotely, Michael Williams, 38, described driving from his home in Valdosta, Georgia, to Kissimmee, Florida, where a woman who had lodged claims against the celebrity whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly. Williams said he then “deliberately set a car on fire in someone’s driveway.”

The black SUV was parked in the driveway of the alleged victim’s father, who had leased the vehicle from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, according to an arrest warrant affidavit

The unnamed female victim had posted videos on social media, including via Instagram live, discussing physical and mental abuse by Kelly during their relationship, according to the affidavit. 

At the time of the fire, four people were inside the residence: one of whom reported seeing someone fleeing from the scene, whose arm also appeared to be on fire. 

Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Judge Ann M. Donnelly to clarify Williams’ intent in setting the blaze. 

“When you lit the car on fire, was it your purpose to damage the car or destroy it?” Donnelly asked. Williams replied in the affirmative. 

Records also showed that Williams had searched for information about fertilizer bombs, R. Kelly-related news, and “case law for tampering with a witness.” 

In a 5-page indictment, Williams, the relative of a former publicist for Kelly, was also charged with witness tampering. Police say he sent threatening text messages to the female victim’s father. 

“It might be wise for you to protect your daughter from heartache she’s gonna endure through this and after,” one of the messages said, as quoted in Williams’ arrest affidavit. “She had to live with every stain you guys create publicly.”

The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office said it will not pursue that charge, in light of the guilty plea for the count carrying a higher minimum sentence. 

“From the outset, our position was that the witness tampering charge should be dismissed, and this plea agreement reflects that,” Todd A. Spodek, attorney for Williams, said in an email to Courthouse News following the plea hearing. 

At his sentencing, set for October, Williams faces up to nearly six years in prison. 

Earlier this year, Richard Arline Jr. pleaded guilty to charges that he tried to pressure one of Kelly’s accusers not to testify against Kelly. In text and Instagram messages, Arline, a longtime friend of Kelly’s, offered hush money to an unnamed woman Kelly is said to have begun a sexual relationship with when she was 17. The woman recorded phone calls last May and June between herself, Arline and another anonymous individual. Arline was charged in an indictment that was unsealed at the same time as the case against Williams.

The third indictment against Donnell Russell describes that individual as Kelly’s manager, adviser and friend. Russell is accused of threatening to reveal sexually explicit photographs of an anonymous accuser if she did not withdraw a lawsuit against Kelly. 

The victim’s Brooklyn-based lawyer received the threat via letter in November 2018. Cropped nude photographs of the victim were attached to the message, alongside the text: “The next two pictures have been cropped for the sake of not exposing her extremities to the world, yet!!!” 

The trial of Kelly, 54, is set to begin in the Eastern District of New York this August. Prosecutors said in a conference last week that they will begin the process of transferring the defendant from Chicago, where he is being held, to Brooklyn.

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