R&B singer R. Kelly was on suicide watch following his conviction on racketeering charges in New York, his lawyer told a federal judge in Chicago on Wednesday.
In the first court hearing since a jury found Kelly guilty three weeks ago, attorney Steve Greenberg said the U.S. Bureau of Prisons placed the singer on suicide watch for some time but that has since been lifted.
Placing a recently convicted prisoner under increased monitoring is common in the federal prison system and Greenberg did not say that Kelly had expressed any actual desire to harm himself.
Greenberg also said Kelly has told him he’s in the process of revamping his legal team in the New York case — which underwent a dramatic shake-up in the weeks leading up to trial — but that Greenberg and his partner Michael Leonard believe they will stay on as lead counsel in Kelly’s Chicago cases.
“I think he’s talking about bringing in new lawyers in New York,” Greenberg told U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber.
Leinenweber set an Aug. 1 jury trial for Kelly and his two co-defendants, longtime associates Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown. The trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse is expected to last three or four weeks.
Kelly, who participated in the conference by video from the federal jail in Brooklyn, did not speak during the hearing because no one could figure out how to unmute him.
Kelly, 54, was convicted on Sept. 27 of racketeering conspiracy charges alleging he used his music career to further a criminal enterprise. The jury found him guilty of 12 individual illegal acts, including sex with multiple underage girls as well as a 1994 scheme to bribe an Illinois public aid official to get a phony ID for 15-year-old singer Aaliyah so the two could get illegally married.
He faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison when he’s sentenced on May 4, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.
Kelly’s attorneys have said it makes little sense to rush to trial in Chicago without knowing what Kelly’s sentence will be in New York.
If the Chicago federal case does go to trial, it will likely focus on graphic videotapes Kelly allegedly made depicting him having sex with at least three girls when they were minors, court records show.
The 13-count indictment filed in July 2019 alleges that Kelly, both on his own and through associates, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts and legal settlements to try to buy up copies of the sex tapes before they could get in the hands of investigators.
One of those tapes, which allegedly shows Kelly having sex with his 14-year-old goddaughter, was at the center of child pornography charges against Kelly two decades ago. But the girl at the time refused to testify, leading to a stunning acquittal by a Cook County jury in 2008.
The girl, identified in the charges as Minor 1, is now cooperating with federal investigators and is expected to be one of the key witnesses against Kelly should that case go to trial. She also is the alleged victim in one of the four pending sexual abuse indictments filed against Kelly in Cook County in February 2019.
According to the federal indictment, Kelly and his associates ran a yearslong scheme to hide the abuse of Minor 1, including flying her parents out of the country to keep investigators from interviewing them and later making payments to her and her family to induce them to lie about the abuse to a grand jury.
The payments, gifts and other benefits continued even well after Kelly’s 2008 acquittal, according to the indictment. As recently as October 2015, Kelly was still making monthly payments to Minor 1 through his businesses, often using the word “SETTLEMENT” in the transaction line, according to the indictment.
The lead charge in the indictment, producing child pornography, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 20 years behind bars.
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