R. Kelly dominated not only women and girls but also his employees over a quarter century of sexual abuse, a prosecutor said on Wednesday as the R&B superstar’s sex trafficking trial neared its conclusion.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes told jurors during her closing argument in Brooklyn federal court that Kelly’s entourage of business managers, accountants, runners and other employees was “at his disposal.”
She said some “turned a blind eye” as they recruited women and girls for Kelly’s sexual gratification, a side long concealed from the public and fans of his music.
Kelly used his operations to “dominate his victims,” exploited his “money and public persona to hide his crimes in plain sight,” Geddes said.
The argument came at the end of a five-week trial over Kelly’s alleged abuses, where several accusers including men testified against the singer.
A lawyer for Kelly is also expected to offer a closing argument, and jurors could begin deliberating on Thursday.
Kelly, 54, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, had pleaded not guilty to one count of racketeering, and eight counts of violating the Mann Act by illegally transporting people across state lines for prostitution.
Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning smash “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly is one of the most prominent people tried for sexual misconduct during the #MeToo movement.
The singer has been dogged since the early 2000s by sexual abuse accusations, which he has denied, and which were amplified in the January 2019 Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Prosecutors have tried to portray Kelly as an intemperate predator who exploited his fame to attract fans into his circle.
Once there, Kelly would demand strict obedience to his rules or else punish his victims, sometimes by locking them in rooms or depriving them of food, and had many write bogus letters absolving him of blame, prosecutors said.
His alleged victims included the late singer Aaliyah, who Kelly briefly and illegally married in 1994 when she was 15. Aaliyah died in a 2001 plane crash.
Geddes recalled testimony from a former tour manager, Demetrius Smith, who testified to having paid a $500 bribe to obtain a marriage license after Kelly grew concerned he had gotten Aaliyah pregnant.
“We all knew what the defendant was thinking: no baby, no jail,” Geddes said. “Just because you have your (workers) do your dirty work doesn’t make you any less responsible.”
Defense lawyers have tried to portray Kelly’s accusers as formerly star-struck fans whose relationships with the singer did not work out.
They have also questioned why accusers waited so long to come forward and sometimes stayed with Kelly even after he allegedly abused them.
Kelly did not testify in his own defense, which is his right, and which could have subjected him to days of questioning by prosecutors, who spent 4-1/2 weeks presenting their case.
“No, ma’am,” Kelly told U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly when asked if he wanted to testify.
The defense case lasted about two days.
Music industry executive Julius Darrington, the fifth and final defense witness, testified on Wednesday that he sometimes spent long days with Kelly yet never saw him strike anyone or lock up women in rooms, as other witnesses have testified.
But on cross-examination, he agreed with a prosecutor that he did not know what Kelly did “behind closed doors” when he was not around.
Kelly also faces separate criminal charges in federal court in Chicago, and state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.