R&B singer R. Kelly pleaded not guilty on Friday in a New York court to federal charges including racketeering that allege he systematically recruited girls for sex while touring.
The disgraced superstar — who for decades has faced sexual abuse accusations — was brought to the Brooklyn courthouse from Chicago, where he was being held without bond on separate federal charges linked to child pornography.
“Yes sir,” was all Kelly, dressed in blue prison scrubs, said during the arraignment, when asked by the judge whether he understood the charges against him.
His two girlfriends and some family members were in court, along with around a dozen fans.
One wore a t-shirt that had “Free R Kelly” written on the front and “Unmute R Kelly” on the back. A couple had also made crowns with his image on it and the words “Justice 4 R Kelly”
The New York indictment unsealed last month says Kelly, 52, would regularly issue wristbands to girls via his associates that granted them backstage access and face time with the musician known for hits like “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Kelly would tell members of his entourage to obtain contact information from girls he wished to see again, the charges read, some of whom were invited to later concerts and provided with lodging.
Girls were to call Kelly “Daddy” and stay inside their rooms without permission from the singer to leave, even to eat or use the restroom, according to court documents.
The New York case involves five unidentified women, three of whom were minors at the time of the alleged crimes, which include coercing sexual activity.
He is also accused of kidnapping one of the victims, and exposing another to a venereal disease without her knowledge.
Kelly, whose given name is Robert Kelly, additionally faces charges of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting people across state lines for purposes of prostitution.
Following the arraignment in New York, Kelly is expected to be taken back to Chicago, where he is being held on suspicion of having sex with five underage girls, recording some of it, and then attempting to hide the evidence.
Kelly must attend a status hearing in the Midwestern city on September 4, having pleaded not guilty to that 13-count indictment.
Last month, he was denied bond after prosecutors described him as “an extreme danger to the community, especially to minor girls,” arguing that neither house arrest nor electronic monitoring would suffice.
Prior to his arrest in July over the federal indictment, Kelly had been out on bond in connection with state felony charges of aggravated sexual assault in Chicago’s Cook County criminal court.
Kelly has a decades-long history of abuse allegations, especially of underage girls.
In 1994, he wed his protegee Aaliyah, the late R&B star who was 15 at the time.
After a dramatic trial, Kelly was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography charges, also in Chicago.
Despite the slew of disturbing claims against him, the award-winning musician continued to perform for years and maintained a solid fan base.
But he began facing renewed scrutiny earlier this year upon the release of the docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which nabbed an Emmy nomination for outstanding informational series or special.
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