NEW YORK (AP) — Embattled R&B singer R. Kelly pleaded not guilty Friday to federal charges he sexually abused women and girls who attended his concerts as his lawyers continued to label the alleged victims disgruntled “groupies.”
A sullen-looking Kelly appeared in a Brooklyn courtroom where a magistrate judge also denied his request for bail, agreeing with prosecutors that he’s a flight risk and danger to public safety. His defense attorneys, who argued he should be released so he could better fight the charges, said they would appeal the ruling.
Kelly, whose full name is Robert Kelly, is accused of using his fame to recruit young women and girls into illegal sexual activity. Prosecutors say he isolated them from friends and family and demanded they call him “Daddy.”
On Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes argued against bail by saying Kelly and his inner circle had a history of paying off and intimidating potential witnesses in past sexual misconduct cases.
Geddes said witnesses were told “they had the option of choosing his side or the other side.”
If freed, she said, “There’s a serious risk he’ll attempt to obstruct justice.”
The New York City hearing followed Kelly’s arrest last month in a separate Chicago case accusing him of engaging in child pornography. He was to be returned to Chicago, where he remains jailed with a decision still pending on where he could face trial.
Kelly, 52, is charged in New York with exploiting five victims, identified only as “Jane Does.” According to court papers, they include one he met while she was a radio station intern in about 2004 and another at one of his concerts in 2015.
Prosecutors allege Kelly sometimes arranged for some victims to meet him on the road for illegal sex. He had one victim travel in 2017 to a show on Long Island, New York, where he had unprotected sex with her without telling her “he had contracted an infectious venereal disease,” in violation of New York law, they say.
A defense filing said Kelly’s alleged victims were regulars at his shows who made it known they “were dying to be with him.” They only started accusing him of abuse years later when public sentiment shifted in the #MeToo era, his lawyers said.
The accusers “are groupies,” defense attorney Douglas Anton said outside court Friday. “There’s no way around it.” At the time, his client was merely “leading a touring musician’s life,” he added.
The arraignment was attended by two women who recently lived with Kelly. They declined to speak with reporters. Those in the gallery also included a woman wearing a “Free R. Kelly” shirt and Des Alexander, a fan from Brooklyn who said she was “confused” by the case.
Alexander said she hopes Kelly is innocent but added, “If he did it, he deserves to go down.”
“I have daughters of my own,” she said.