R. Kelly pleads not guilty to sex-crime charges, denied bail after lawyer lost track of him

Maria Puente

R. Kelly pleaded not guilty Friday to charges he sexually exploited young women and girls who attended his concerts, appearing in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn packed with his supporters. For a second time, he was denied bail, according to the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of New York.

Kelly was arraigned on a second federal indictment accusing him of being the leader of a "racketeering enterprise" that recruited women and girls for illegal sexual encounters with him, including transporting them across state lines.

In the afternoon Kelly appeared before U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly for a status hearing, where the next hearing in the case was set for October, according to John Marzulli, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn.

Kelly's attorneys said he would waive his appearance for that hearing. Marzulli said he will be transported back to Chicago where is expected at hearings in August and September in the two other sex-crime cases pending against him in Illinois.

In courtroom sketch, R. Kelly, center, listens in federal court with his attorneys Doug Anton, left, and Steve Greenberg during his arraignment on sex-crime charges, Aug. 2, 2019 in New York.

The arraignment Friday was preceded by controversy after his lawyer in the New York case, Douglas Anton, said he was unable to meet with him after he arrived from Chicago on Thursday.

Anton complained in a letter to a federal magistrate late Thursday that he couldn't find him. Anton said federal Bureau of Prison officials, who flew Kelly into a New Jersey airport on Thursday afternoon, were unhelpful in explaining where he was so that he could meet with his client before the hearing, according to the New York Post and NBC News.

NBC posted video of Kelly arriving at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport. Wearing a tan prison shirt and orange shoes, the R&B star had his hands cuffed in front of him and shuffled along the tarmac as an officer escorted him to a waiting pickup truck.

As of Friday morning, Kelly was in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn; as of Thursday night, prison records showed he was still in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. 

During the status hearing before Judge Donnelly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes said prosecutors will start turning over discovery next week.

Azriel Clary, left, and Joycelyn Savage, right, two women who say they are R. Kelly's live-in girlfriends, arrive at Brooklyn federal court for his arraignment on sex-crime charges, Aug. 2, 2019 in New York.

Marzulli said both sides are working on a protective order for evidence in the case; in Chicago, the U.S. district judge presiding over that case has already issued a protective order that bars attorneys from talking publicly about new evidence in the case, a move aimed at ensuring the case isn't tried in the media. 

Kelly was represented at the arraignment by Anton, a New Jersey-based lawyer who also is Kelly's entertainment attorney. Anton argued Kelly should be released while awaiting trial so that he could better fight charges he dismissed as "groupie remorse."

Prosecutors argued that Kelly should be kept in jail because he's a flight risk and a potential "danger" to the community.

Although the defense lost the bid to get Kelly released, Kelly's lawyers said they will ask Judge Donnelly to reconsider that decision made by a federal magistrate. 

Kelly is charged in a five-count indictment with racketeering, sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and Mann Act violations involving the coercion and transportation of women and girls in interstate commerce to engage in illegal sexual activity, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

R. Kelly's legal team, including Douglas Anton, center, and Steve Greenberg, far right, after a hearing in Kelly's racketeering and sex trafficking case, outside federal court in Brooklyn on Aug. 2, 2019 in New York.

Kelly has been locked up in Chicago since July 11 on another federal indictment by the Northern District of Illinois on similar sex-crime charges, including possession and production of child pornography. 

Kelly has already pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in Illinois. He was denied bond and was locked up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago until he was taken to New York. 

Kelly also is facing state sex-crime charges in Cook County. Earlier this year, he pleaded not guilty to two sets of multiple sex-crimes, including aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault by force, aggravated criminal sexual abuse and aggravated criminal sexual abuse against an accuser between the ages of 13 and 17. 

Until he was arrested on the federal indictments, he had been free on bond in the state case.

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Prior to the hearing, Anton told USA TODAY that the New York case is based on "two misdemeanors being used as predicates for a RICO (racketeering act) case."

R. Kelly (R) appears in court with his attorney Steve Greenberg, for a hearing on state sex-crime charges against him, on March 22, 2019, in Chicago.

In a hint of his defense strategy in the New York case, Anton said the adult woman accuser in the case is also suing Kelly in civil court. Based on what she claims in that suit, Anton said, the woman traveled voluntarily to see Kelly perform and "hang out with him, like any groupie does" for more than a year.

He claimed the charges against Kelly come down to "simple 'groupie regret' " by adult fans, some of whom lied about their age to make them older or younger, and who sought to hang out with "a superstar."

"We hold the position that persecution of this particular client is an unprecedented assault against Mr. Kelly by those who seek undeserved notoriety and for their own personal gain," Anton told USA TODAY. "Mr. Kelly is innocent until and unless proven guilty by a jury of his peers."

Anton also has been sparing with prosecutors in the Eastern District over the charges in the case and their reasons why Kelly should be locked up until his trial. Among them: Kelly allegedly gave herpes to one of the accusers in the case, who is not named, after unprotected and undisclosed sex. Failure to disclose an infectious venereal disease is illegal in New York, U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in his filing.

In his 12-page response filed Tuesday with Judge Donnelly, Anton tries to dismantle the prosecution's case for keeping Kelly locked up, and the underlying charges themselves. He specifically goes after the "Kelly gave me herpes" claim by the then-19-year-old accuser, who is also suing Kelly in civil court on the claim.

Anton mocked the government's argument that Kelly would be dangerous due to the herpes claim if released on bond. "What is the claim in the NY case? That he will get out of jail and go randomly have unprotected sex?" Anton wrote. 

Supporters of R. Kelly arrive at federal court in Brooklyn for his arraignment on sex-crime charges on Aug. 2, 2019, in New York.

Since the federal indictments, federal prosecutors in both New York and Illinois have insisted that Kelly be kept locked up pending trials. Prosecutor Geddes reiterated that on Friday, saying Kelly and his inner circle had a history of paying off and intimidating witnesses in past cases. 

"There's a serious risk he'll attempt to obstruct justice," Geddes said.

In Chicago, Kelly's lead defense attorney, Steven Greenberg, has argued that Kelly has no means to flee because he has no money. Plus, he says, Kelly doesn't like to fly.

Greenberg filed a motion Thursday in Chicago asking the judge in the case there to release Kelly pending trial, arguing that the allegations against him are "as stale as used gym socks."

“The idea that Mr. Kelly has the means and wherewithal to obstruct any witness against him is frankly preposterous,” Greenberg wrote.  

In Chicago, Kelly had been in solitary confinement in an isolated holding area as a safety precaution due to his celebrity status, according to the acting U.S. marshal in Chicago, Jason Wojdylo. At a hearing last week before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, Wojdylo said Kelly had “declined an opportunity” to have a cellmate or to move into general population, but he didn't explain why. 

Wojdylo also said, without explaining why, that he had concerns about transporting Kelly to New York, and asked if Kelly could enter a plea in the New York case by video from Chicago. Leinenweber said Kelly had a right to stand in person before the New York federal judge. Kelly's attorneys said he wanted to go to New York despite the unexplained difficulties of transporting him.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Illinois said at the hearing that more charges and more defendants could be added to the case there against Kelly. Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull said a more far-ranging indictment is expected soon, although she offered no details.

Kelly already has two co-defendants, his ex-manager Derrel McDavid and former employee Milton Brown, who pleaded not guilty to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrieve pornographic videos Kelly allegedly made, as a mean to avoid criminal charges.