Updated at 4:21 p.m.
Federal Judge Harry Leinenweber on Tuesday called the charges against the R&B singer known as R. Kelly “extraordinarily serious,” and ordered Kelly be held in jail while he awaits trial on federal sex crime charges in Chicago.
Kelly is facing charges that range from child pornography, sexual exploitation of children, sexual assault, obstruction of justice and racketeering in three separate jurisdictions. He’s been held at the federal jail in downtown Chicago since his arrest on new federal charges last week that came on top of charges filed earlier this year in Cook County.
On Tuesday, Kelly appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit and entered a plea of not guilty.
In arguing for Kelly’s continued confinement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull said Kelly is an “extreme danger to the community, especially to minor girls.”
Krull said between the state cases and two federal cases there are 12 unique victims alleged. She said the victims listed in the indictments are “just the tip of the iceberg,” that they have evidence he abused “many more girls” and that their investigation is “far from over.”
She said they have three videos of Kelly abusing the 14-year-old girl at the center of a 2008 case in Cook County that charged him with making child pornography for videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl. Krull said one video was shown at the 2008 trial, but they have two other videos that are new.
Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg said the alleged abuse is from decades ago.
“There’s no evidence that he’s a risk to minors at all,” Greenberg said. He said the lack of recent allegations proves Kelly is not a danger and should be released.
He argued Kelly has consistently appeared for court dates and is not a flight risk.
“How can he flee? He has no money,” Greenberg said.
Krull said Kelly was the leader of a “conspiracy to obstruct justice,” when he faced trial in 2008. She said Kelly used intimidation, blackmail and hush money to destroy evidence and keep the alleged victim from testifying.
Two of Kelly’s former business partners are charged with obstruction of justice alongside Kelly for allegedly helping destroy videos featuring Kelly and silencing witnesses. During Tuesday’s hearing, Greenberg suggested those co-defendants may have acted to protect Kelly and the revenue he generated, without Kelly knowing anything about it.
“If other people did something to protect the money [coming in], I don’t know about that,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said it would be possible for business partners to engage in obstruction of justice without Kelly’s knowledge in part because Kelly is illiterate.
In arguing for Kelly’s release, Greenberg painted a dim picture of his client’s current life. He said Kelly lives in a “small apartment” in Trump tower, which he rarely leaves except to walk his dog or smoke a cigar; he said Kelly has “no money to live on,” and does not play any concerts; he said Kelly is estranged from his children and is unable to read or write.
Greenberg said Kelly lives with two young women who are his girlfriends. The two appeared in court Tuesday in support of Kelly.
Leinenweber’s decision to keep Kelly locked up came as part of the case pending against Kelly in federal court in Chicago, where he is facing 13 counts, including child pornography and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.
Kelly is also facing federal charges in New York, including allegations of racketeering, kidnapping, forced labor and sexual exploitation of a child.
The federal charges come on top of pending cases in Cook County Circuit Court, where Kelly is charged with 18 counts of sexual assault and abuse.
Experts said it was rare to have so many pending cases from multiple jurisdictions against one defendant. They were unclear in what order the cases would be tried.
Greenberg said his client is not guilty of the charges and looks forward to being vindicated in court.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.