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R. Kelly Associates Charged With Trying To Bribe, Intimidate His Accusers

An attorney for R. Kelly, seen in May 2019, said his client "had nothing to do with any of these alleged acts by those charged."
Kamil Krzaczynski
AFP via Getty Images
An attorney for R. Kelly, seen in May 2019, said his client "had nothing to do with any of these alleged acts by those charged."

Three associates of fallen R&B star R. Kelly were arrested and charged Tuesday by New York federal authorities. The three are accused of attempting to harass, threaten, intimidate and bribe several of Kelly's alleged victims of sexual abuse.

The men are 31-year-old Richard Arline Jr., a self-described friend of the singer; Donnell Russell, 45, a self-described "manager, advisor and friend" of Kelly; and Michael Williams, 37, who prosecutors say is a relative of one of Kelly's former publicists.

The charges were filed in the Eastern District of New York. According to prosecutors, Arline tried to bribe one of Kelly's accusers earlier this year with a proposed payment of $500,000, in order to keep her from cooperating with the government and testifying against Kelly at trial. Prosecutors also say that Arline claimed that he has been in touch with Kelly, while he is being held in custody, via a three-way phone call.

Russell, prosecutors say, tried to harass and intimidate another Kelly accuser and her mother between November 2018 and February of this year, after the accuser filed a civil lawsuit against the singer. Russell is said to have threatened to release sexually explicit photos of the woman and to reveal elements of her sexual history if she did not withdraw the suit.

The prosecutors say that Russell, using an alias, also sent versions of those photos to producers and executives at Lifetime and A&E television on Dec. 4, 2018 — the day that Lifetime was to hold an advance screening of part of its Surviving R. Kelly docuseries. That screening and a panel discussion was canceled because of a gun threat that was called in shortly before the event was to take place.

Williams is charged with setting fire on June 11 to an SUV that was parked outside of a residence where one of Kelly's accusers was staying in Florida; the SUV was leased by the woman's father. According to prosecutors, investigators also found an accelerant around the residence. Additionally, prosecutors say, Williams searched the Internet for information about the flammability of fertilizer and diesel fuel; materials about witness intimidation and tampering; and information about countries that do not have extradition treaties with the U.S.

Almost immediately after the charges against the men were announced on Wednesday, one of Kelly's attorneys, Steve Greenberg, posted on Twitter: "Without question, Robert Kelly had nothing to do with any of these alleged acts by those charged. He hasn't attempted to intimidate anyone, or encouraged anyone else to do so. No involvement whatsoever."

The New York prosecutors had already alleged that Kelly and his associates — including "managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners for Kelly, as well as members of Kelly's entourage" — were acting as an organized crime ring.

They have also contended that Kelly obstructed justice by destroying evidence and bribing witnesses during his last criminal trial, which ended with a not guilty verdict in Chicago in 2008.

Kelly is facing two sets of federal criminal charges: one in the Eastern District and the other in Illinois. In total, these comprise 22 charges for allegedly abusing 11 girls and women over the course of more than two decades, from 1994 to 2018.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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