The charges that R. Kelly faces in New York include racketeering "to prey upon young women and teenagers" and sexually trafficking these girls and women between states.



The R&B star R. Kelly is in court today in Brooklyn, New York. Lawyers will give opening arguments in the first of his two scheduled federal trials.

We should warn you - this story includes allegations that some people will find disturbing, and it lasts about four minutes. If you need to go, don't worry; we'll still be here when you get back.

R. Kelly is facing charges of racketeering for the purpose of luring girls and young women, as well as sexually trafficking them across state lines. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas is covering the trial. Good morning.


INSKEEP: I guess we should begin by noting, this is one of his trials.

TSIOULCAS: That's right. He's actually facing accusations from two separate sets of federal prosecutors, one in New York and one in Illinois. He was arrested back in July 2019, and he's been in custody ever since. And there was a lot of back-and-forthing (ph) - who should go first? Finally, it was decided New York would go first. But even after this trial ends, he'll face another set of federal charges, and he's pleaded not guilty to all the accusations and charges.

INSKEEP: OK, noting the not guilty plea, let's talk about the accusations first in this New York City trial.

TSIOULCAS: Right. The New York prosecutors are alleging that Kelly ran a criminal enterprise along the lines of the mob. In this case, the prosecutors say the mission of this enterprise was to, quote, "prey upon young women and teenagers." And that enterprise, they say, allegedly included sexually exploiting children, kidnapping and forced labor. And I should note, there are six alleged victims in the New York charges. Prosecutors also say that he bribed a public official to make a fake ID for his former protege, the singer Aaliyah. They were married in 1994, the day after the ID was made. He was 27, and she was just 15 years old.

INSKEEP: OK. And then there's the case in Chicago. How different is that?

TSIOULCAS: In the Illinois case, he's facing allegations of child pornography and obstruction. And some listeners may remember he was acquitted of child pornography charges in Chicago back in 2008. The Illinois prosecutors have accused him of actually obstructing justice in that trial, of intimidating and paying off witnesses, including the 14-year-old alleged victim.

INSKEEP: OK, so we've got these two different trials on somewhat related charges. I want to circle back to that phrase you used earlier - you said criminal enterprise. What would make these various acts a criminal enterprise, according to the prosecutors?

TSIOULCAS: Well, they're saying that he headed a whole circle of people, including an entourage of managers and handlers and publicists and gofers who aided him in this mission in various ways. The New York prosecutors are also trying to have other evidence admitted that they say shows that this was a long-established crime circle and not just an alleged individual predator. And that evidence includes abuse of 20 teenage girls and women over a very long span, 1991 to 2018, as well as alleged sexual abuse of a 17-year-old boy.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, how do they keep the jury from being tainted by all the news coverage of this trial?

TSIOULCAS: So the judge has ordered the jurors anonymous and partially sequestered for the duration. And the judge, Ann Donnelly, has told the jurors repeatedly it's because of the intense media interest around this trial.

INSKEEP: Anastasia, thanks so much.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas.

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