BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – R. Kelly must await his May 2020 trial in Brooklyn from behind bars, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The five-count racketeering indictment here charges the former R&B star with sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, forced labor and violations of the federal Mann Act. Kelly, 52, was not present in court Wednesday, having waived his appearance. Even if U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly had ruled he could walk free, he’s under a separate federal order of detention in Chicago.
Defense attorney Steve Greenberg argued Wednesday against government allegations that Kelly has obstructed justice and threatened potential witnesses.
“There’s no text messages from Mr. Kelly that we are aware of; there’s no phone calls,” he said. “As far as the obstruction, there’s nothing coming back to Mr. Kelly.”
In its opposition to Kelly’s motion for pretrial release, prosecutors wrote that Kelly signed documents that may have included a letter to the lawyer of Jane Doe 5 in the Brooklyn case, threatening to release “compromising and potentially embarrassing photographs” of her if she pursued a civil lawsuit against Kelly.
Highlighting his client’s reported illiteracy, Greenberg denied that Kelly’s signature on such a document would be damning.
“Things get put in front of him and he signs them,” Greenberg said. “He doesn’t always know what’s in them.”
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Jane Does 1, 2 and 5 in the Brooklyn matter, said outside court Wednesday that she was pleased with Donnelly’s decision to continue Kelly’s detention. She said Jane Doe 5 interpreted the letter as intimidation.
The attorneys also painted a confusing picture of Kelly’s finances, which Donnelly characterized as “murky, to say the least.” Greenberg maintained Kelly deposited a modest royalty check in an account he had sent up in a friend’s name so it wouldn’t be seized, which, he admitted, was “not the best thing.” But he said his client “does not have great financial resources.”
The government disagreed, saying Kelly had deposited a $788,000 check in his friend’s account, in addition to having received a check in June for $90,000.
“Maybe I had the wrong amount,” said Greenberg later.
Donnelly ruled from the bench to keep Kelly detained, calling the singer a flight risk and a danger to the community.
A federal trial in Chicago is set for April 27, though Greenberg said in Brooklyn Wednesday he doesn’t think that date is realistic. On Wednesday, the parties set a May 18 start date for a federal trial in Brooklyn, with the prosecution estimating it will take about three weeks.
With separate criminal cases pending against him in four different jurisdictions — Kelly also faces state charges in Illinois and Minnesota — the “Trapped in the Closet” singer has a long spring ahead of him. Allegations of sexual abuse, including of minors, have dogged the Grammy winner for decades.
U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly did not immediately rule on whether Kelly would have to be present in person for the next status conference in his Brooklyn case, which is set for Dec. 9.
Allred said outside Wednesday she doesn’t know what trial will come first.
“But if it’s this one,” she said, “all my clients are willing to testify.”