R. Kelly pleads not guilty to bribing official to wed 15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994
World / 19 December 2019, 10:01am / Jason Meisner and Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune
Chicago - Jailed R&B star R. Kelly pleaded not guilty in a Chicago federal courtroom Wednesday to a new indictment brought in New York alleging he bribed an Illinois official to get a fake ID for 15-year-old singer Aaliyah a day before he married her in 1994.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Kelly, 52, kept his hands clasped behind his back as he appeared for his arraignment before U.S. Judge Ann M. Donnelly in Brooklyn via a live television feed from a largely empty 17th-floor courtroom at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
The superseding indictment filed in federal court in Brooklyn last week alleged that Kelly directed someone in August 1994 to bribe the public official into making a false "identification document" for the female.
The Chicago Tribune has obtained records showing that the female, identified in the charges only as "Jane Doe #1," was Aaliyah.
The next day, Kelly, then 27, married Aaliyah Haughton in a secret ceremony with falsified paperwork that gave her age as 18. The marriage was later annulled by a Michigan judge at the insistence of Aaliyah's family.
In Illinois, someone must be a minimum of 18 to marry without parental consent.
The new allegation was added to the sweeping racketeering conspiracy indictment that New York prosecutors brought over the summer, accusing the singer of identifying underage girls attending his concerts and grooming them for later sexual abuse.
Kelly's attorney, Steven Greenberg, has previously said the new indictment "does not appear to materially alter the landscape."
"We continue to look forward to the day he is free," he told the Tribune by text last week.
Kelly is in federal custody awaiting trial on the New York charges as well as a separate indictment brought by federal prosecutors in Chicago alleging the singer conspired with two former employees to rig his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County by paying off witnesses and victims to change their stories.
In addition, Kelly was charged in Cook County criminal court in February with four separate indictments accusing him of sexual misconduct over more than a decade. Three of those alleged victims were underage at the time.
If convicted in all jurisdictions, the embattled singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, could potentially face the rest of his life in prison.
Aaliyah met Kelly when she was just 12; as his protege, she went on to become a teenage R&B star. Her smash-hit May 1994 debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number," was produced and written by Kelly.
The nature of their relationship and Aaliyah's real age were the subject of much public speculation at the time. Their secret marriage collapsed after Aaliyah's parents found out and insisted on an annulment, according to news accounts.
Aaliyah left Kelly's record label later that year. She died in a plane crash in 2001.
In the recent documentary "Surviving R. Kelly," Kelly's former tour manager, Demetrius Smith, said he arranged the forged Aaliyah marriage documents for Kelly and was one of a handful of people present at the small ceremony in Rosemont.
"It was just a quick little ceremony. She didn't have on a white dress. He didn't have on a tux," Smith said in the documentary. "Just everyday wear. She looked worried and scared."
Smith, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, told TMZ in an interview last week that he'd been subpoenaed to testify by federal investigators.
Documents obtained by the Tribune through an open records request show that federal prosecutors in New York subpoenaed the Cook County clerk's office in July for Kelly's marriage records to Aaliyah and later to Andrea Danyell Kelly, which ended in divorce in 2009.
Federal prosecutors in Chicago, meanwhile, also asked for records pertaining to the Aaliyah marriage, the records show.
In March, Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull, the lead prosecutor on the Chicago case, sent an email to a clerk's office employee asking for the records "pursuant to an open law enforcement investigation," according to the documents obtained by the Tribune.
"Given the high-profile nature of the request, we ask that, to the extent possible, you keep the fact of this request limited to as few people as possible within your agency," Krull wrote.