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R. Kelly To Face Sex Abuse Trial


I note now that this next item unavoidably deals with allegations of physical and sexual abuse. This coming week, Robert Sylvester Kelly faces trial in New York. Of course, he's known as R. Kelly, the R&B star. He is accused of abusing women and girls and trafficking victims across state lines and of making child pornography. Some of these allegations go back decades. He's also being charged as the leader of a kind of a criminal enterprise. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong on what to look for in the prosecution and defense of R. Kelly.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Prosecutors say that as R. Kelly traveled across the country and abroad to perform at concerts, his entourage, or enterprise, as prosecutors call it, would recruit women for Kelly to engage in illegal sexual acts with. R. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all the criminal charges.

MOIRA PENZA: The primary charge in the case is racketeering, or RICO, as a lot of people have heard it.

LIMBONG: That's Moira Penza. She's a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, where the R. Kelly trial is taking place.

PENZA: To be convicted of racketeering, you would need to show that the enterprise existed.

LIMBONG: That there was this network of managers and handlers and drivers all working together.

PENZA: And then you would show that R. Kelly committed at least two of those racketeering acts within a 10-year span.

LIMBONG: But what does an enterprise look like, and how do you go about proving one? Well, Penza knows a thing or two about prosecuting high-profile RICO cases involving sexual activities. She was the lead prosecutor in the federal case against Keith Raniere in the NXIVM sex cult case.

PENZA: There was more structure when you looked at NXIVM, right? There were these pyramid organizations with Keith Raniere at the top and with the same kind of key players at the top of all of these other organizations. With R. Kelly, it's a little looser. You're going to have this concept of the entourage. But what you're going to see is that I'm sure there is commonality in some of the players over time in terms of some of the individuals who were helping him perpetuate crimes. And you will see that they all had this common purpose.

LIMBONG: Penza says people mostly associate RICO with more traditional organized crime, Mafia-type cases. But in the last few years, the Eastern District, in particular, has used RICO in new ways to target other types of organized crimes, such as her NXIVM case and the corruption case involving the soccer organization FIFA a few years back.

ANDREA LYON: It's a very powerful tool that the prosecution has.

LIMBONG: Chicago-based lawyer Andrea Lyon is the former dean of Valparaiso Law School. She says you could argue that federal prosecutors overuse RICO statutes as a way of broadening the amount of evidence they can use to build their case. In R. Kelly's instance...

LYON: My guess is the reason that they're using RICO is in order to be able to introduce evidence of acts of other people - putting somebody on a plane or going and getting them or that kind of thing because if it's an organization, then they can bring in these other acts of other people. And it makes Mr. Kelly look worse.

LIMBONG: Kelly is also facing separate federal charges in Illinois for sexually abusing girls and women. Lyon says the result in New York could impact R. Kelly's credibility going forward.

LYON: If they get a conviction on any of the counts that they have in New York, it virtually ensures that he cannot testify in Illinois because they can impeach him, that is, confront him with the prior conviction.

LIMBONG: All the more reason why this week's trial could have a huge impact. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
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