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R. Kelly ordered to pay sex abuse victims $309K

Already serving 30 years, with another sentencing still to come on federal sex crimes, the crooner behind the 1996 "Space Jam" theme song "I Believe I Can Fly" appeared in court Wednesday via videoconference.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Imprisoned R&B artist R. Kelly will pay at least $309,000 to victims who testified at his sex trafficking trial last year, which ended in Kelly's conviction on all counts related to a sex ring he ran for decades. 

Kelly has been dogged by sexual abuse allegations dating back to the 1990s when his first hit song, "Bump N' Grind," spent a record-breaking 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. 

The singer’s racketeering and Mann Act guilty verdict in Brooklyn came down a year ago, nearly to the day, after a six-week trial in which women recounted years of abuse and total control. Victims and former employees testified that Kelly recruited women and underage girls into his orbit and then ensconced them at his home or studio where he directed their every move, including when they could eat or use the bathroom. When out of the house, Kelly made them wear baggy clothes and face the wall to avoid eye contact with other men. 

A jury sentenced Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, to 30 years in prison. He is awaiting sentencing from a Chicago detention center meanwhile after he was convicted there earlier this month on federal child pornography, conspiracy and underage sexual enticement charges. 

At the request of his attorneys, who said a leg injury would have made it difficult for Kelly to travel, Kelly appeared via video conference for his Wednesday hearing in Brooklyn. Wearing an orange prison uniform and black mask, the 55-year-old kept his gaze at a stack of papers he was holding throughout the hearing, and exited the video screen walking with a cane. 

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly determined that $300,668.18 in restitution will go to the government’s principal witness, a woman who testified as Jane, to cover projected costs of therapy and treatment for herpes. Multiple women say they contracted the disease from Kelly, who did not disclose his diagnosis before having sex with them. 

Jane spent the longest time under Kelly’s control, she testified: She met the singer when she was a 17-year-old high school student and Kelly was 48. Jane received her parents’ permission to finish her senior year of high school remotely while living with Kelly, an arrangement that lasted around five years. 

On the witness stand, Jane described how Kelly physically abused her and his other girlfriends. He would slap and punch them as well as drag women by the hair, she said. Kelly beat Jane using a Nike Air Force 1 sneaker and a cord, and would regularly spank victims hard enough to leave bruises and break skin, calling it “chastising” them. 

Also as a punishment, Jane said Kelly directed her to have sex with a man she had never met. This individual, whom Kelly called “Nephew,” would later testify at Kelly's trial. He backed up the women's accounts that Kelly instructed him to have sex with them in front of the “Ignition (Remix)” singer, who sometimes recorded the interactions. 

In this courtroom sketch, a woman who goes by the pseudonym Jane, left, testifies in R. Kelly's trial in Chicago federal court on Aug. 19, 2022. (Cheryl Cook via AP)

In addition to Jane’s restitution, another $8,400 in mental health treatment costs will go to a woman who testified as Stephanie and said she met Kelly as a 16-year-old in Chicago. Through tears Stephanie testified that the two first started having sex when Stephanie was 17 and Kelly was 32, while Kelly videotaped the encounters and told her exactly what to do.

The government will seek additional medical restitution for Stephanie. The government will seek additional medical restitution for Stephanie. In the meantime, Donnelly’s order is not yet finalized. 

Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s New York City-based attorney, objected to the government’s calculations for herpes drugs that victims will have to take for the rest of their lives since they were based on the price of name-brand drug Valtrex, rather than a generic version. 

“I don’t think it’s a matter of pursuing a less expensive treatment,” Bonjean said. “It’s the same drug.” 

Donnelly agreed with the government’s estimate. 

“Nobody has cited anything to say the defendant can dictate the type of medicine the victim takes,” she told Bonjean. “You can appeal.” 

“I intend to,” Bonjean replied. 

Donnelly denied the government’s request for restitution to a woman who testified as Sonja and said that Kelly had sexually assaulted her in 2003 while she was drugged and unconscious. The racketeering count pertaining to Sonja was the only of the 14 acts in the top count that the jury found was not proved. 

Kelly owes a total of $450,000 in restitution combined with fines and assessments ordered at his sentencing. Over Kelly’s opposition, the government earlier this month took control of his commissary account, which had accumulated around $28,000.

That money, Bonjean said, came from Kelly’s supporters. 

“He has a lot of fans,” Bonjean said outside the courtroom. “They want to make his life a little easier in prison.”

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