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R. Kelly’s former manager takes stand in Chicago federal trial

Derrel McDavid was the key witness Wednesday as the former R&B star's latest trial nears an end.

CHICAGO (CN) — R. Kelly's former manager and current co-defendant Derrel McDavid took the stand on Wednesday, as the singer's federal trial in Chicago enters what may be its final week.

McDavid, who faces conspiracy, obstruction and child porn charges, is accused of helping Kelly cover up his sexual contact with underage girls - and the videotapes thereof - for over a decade. He began his testimony by recounting his personal and professional history with the 55-year-old artist, saying he met Kelly in the early '90s and describing him as, initially, a withdrawn personality.

"When I met Robert, he was a shy, introverted - I'm going to say kid for lack of a better word," McDavid said.

But he went on to say that as Kelly's fame grew, particularly after his 1993 first solo record "12 Play" went multi-platinum, he began to become a more self-centered, attention-hungry person. He became, in McDavid's word, a superstar. And like most male superstars, McDavid said, Kelly began sleeping with multiple women.

"He was flying a lot of women in and out of town, putting a lot of women in hotels. There were just a lot of women," McDavid said.

McDavid said that to his knowledge the women Kelly was sleeping with were all legal adults, but that his involvement with so many eventually came back to bite him anyway.

Kelly's first brush with legal troubles, McDavid said, came when a woman named Tiffany Hawkins sued him in 1996. She alleged that Kelly had sexually abused her when she was 15 years old and that she was pregnant with his child.

McDavid said he became doubtful of the truthfulness of these claims after discovering, via the services of private investigator Jack Palladino, that Hawkins had been introduced to her attorney Susan Loggans by a man named Demetrius Smith. Smith was Kelly's tour manager in the early-mid '90s but the pair had a falling out, and Kelly eventually fired him. McDavid surmised that Smith had a vendetta against Kelly and was trying to get a cut of the $10 million Hawkins demanded from Kelly in her suit.

He said his doubt became conviction that Hawkins was lying when Loggans agreed to settle the suit for $250,000. The settlement agreement only came, McDavid said, after Kelly's former attorney Gerry Margolis conducted a deposition of Hawkins that poked numerous holes in her story.

"[Loggans] asked, 'how much can I get,'" McDavid related to the court.

Much of McDavid's testimony followed this theme. Prompted by his defense attorney Beau Brindley, McDavid related numerous occasions where Kelly faced allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, only for those allegations to seemingly fall apart under investigation.

He related how Loggans began taking out ads soliciting women to sue Kelly with a series of what he deemed "cookie-cutter lawsuits," and discussed how Kelly's practice of settling these suits - claimed by the prosecution as a sign that Kelly had secrets he didn't want to come to light - was simply easier and cheaper than trying to fight them. Even if they were, as McDavid claimed, a form of extortion.

"In comparison to what [Kelly] was making at the times, these payments were relatively insignificant," McDavid said.

He also brought up that in 1999 and 2000, Kelly's alleged victim and goddaughter referred to as Jane repeatedly denied having an underage relationship with Kelly to police investigators. He blamed several people that Kelly had previously cut professional ties with, including Kelly's former manager Barry Hankerson and Jane's aunt Stephanie "Sparkle" Edwards, for prompting the investigation as a form of revenge.

"Based on the experience, what I knew at that time, there was no way I could think anything that came forward could be true," McDavid said.

Brindley and McDavid also attempted to breach the media's involvement with Kelly's legal troubles in the late '90s and early aughts. It was a December 2000 story by former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis that first brought the public's attention to Kelly's alleged sexual relationships with teenage girls, and McDavid said the fear of bad press was another major motivator for wanting to settle the lawsuits against Kelly.

Unfortunately for McDavid, the foray into that topic was stymied by the presiding federal judge in the trial, Ronald Reagan appointee Harry Leinenweber. McDavid's attorneys issued DeRogatis a subpoena to testify in early August, but the reporter moved to quash that subpoena on Tuesday. Leinenweber ultimately agreed with DeRogatis that his testimony would be both unnecessary and a threat to journalistic inquiry, and excused him before the trial began Wednesday.

"Thank you, your honor. Thank you for the First Amendment," DeRogatis said as he left the courtroom Wednesday morning.

Later Wednesday afternoon, McDavid contradicted the testimony of Charles Freeman, a Kansas City man who testified earlier in the trial that he was hired by McDavid and Palladino to return one of Kelly's alleged leaked sex tapes with a minor. Contrary to Freeman's word, McDavid denied ever directly hiring Freeman or meeting him in Kansas City. He said instead that Freeman approached him, Kelly and Palladino, trying to extort them for $1 million in exchange for returning the alleged tape.

"I wouldn't hire him to shine my shoes. He just a bad person, gave me a bad vibe," McDavid said.

McDavid's testimony ended up taking almost the entirety of the day, which will affect the schedule for the rest of the trial. Proceedings were delayed all Tuesday due to an as-yet unspecified technical issue in Chicago's Dirksen Federal Courthouse, and while defense attorneys said before the Labor Day weekend that they expected to conclude their case sometime this week, the delay and McDavid's lengthy testimony calls that timeframe into question.

"Our direct examination covers 20 years, judge, and we have a lot left to discuss," Brindley told Leinenweber after trial proceedings concluded Wednesday. He estimated that he was less than half-way through his list of questions for McDavid, with cross-examination by federal prosecutors and the other defense attorneys still to follow.

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