Three men accused of intimidating and threatening women — who have accused embattled musician R. Kelly of abuse — have been charged by federal prosecutors.
The charges include sexual assault and leading a racketeering scheme aimed at supplying Kelly with girls. Kelly also is accused of having unprotected sex with a minor in 2015 without disclosing he had herpes.
A longtime friend of the indicted singer offered to pay a victim $500,000 to keep her from cooperating in Kelly’s prosecution, authorities said, while a manager and adviser of Kelly threatened to release sexually explicit photographs of a woman who sued Kelly.
A Kelly defense attorney said he had “no involvement whatsoever” in any attempt to silence witnesses.
“He hasn’t attempted to intimidate anyone, or encouraged anyone else to do so,” attorney Steve Greenberg said on Twitter.
Prosecutors described a third man accused of intimidating witnesses as being related to a former Kelly publicist. They said Michael Williams, 37, of Valdosta, Ga., traveled to Florida in June and set fire to an SUV parked outside a residence where one of Kelly’s victims was staying.
Williams also allegedly conducted Internet searches for “the detonation properties of fertilizer and diesel fuel, witness intimidation and witness tampering and countries that do not have extradition with the United States,” authorities said in a news release.
“The men charged today allegedly have shown that there is no line they will not cross to help Kelly avoid the consequences of his alleged crimes — even if it means re-victimizing his accusers,” Peter Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said in a statement.
FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2019, file photo, R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago.
(Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool, File)
Also charged were two Illinois men with ties to Kelly. His longtime friend, Richard Arline Jr., 31, is accused of offering to pay off a woman he believed had “too much” incriminating information against Kelly.
Authorities said they set up a wiretap and recorded a call in which Arline claimed he had spoken with Kelly behind bars during a three-way call.
Donnell Russell, 45, of Chicago, is charged with harassing a Kelly victim and her mother after the unidentified woman filed a lawsuit against Kelly. Authorities said Russell, a manager and adviser to Kelly, sent a letter to the woman’s lawyer with cropped nude photographs of her and later sent her a text warning her: “Pull the plug or you will be exposed.”
R&B singer R. Kelly, center, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court building for an arraignment on sex-related felonies in Chicago. Federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, against three men accused of threatening and intimidating women who have accused Kelly of abuse, including one man suspected of setting fire to a vehicle in Florida.
(AP Photo/Amr Alfiky, File)
Kelly, who saw a renewed interest in his alleged crimes thanks to a documentary series titled “Surviving R. Kelly,” recently had a request to be released from the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is serving time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic denied by a judge. Part of the reason for the denial, according to U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly, had to do with the fact that Kelly might intimidate witnesses.
“The defendant is currently in custody because of the risks that he will flee or attempt to obstruct, threaten or intimidate prospective witnesses,” Donnelly wrote in April. “The defendant has not explained how those risks have changed.”
Attempts to find attorneys for Williams, Russell, and Arline by Fox News were unsuccessful.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.