Legal and Management

R. Kelly Is a Flight Risk, Prosecutors Argue After Prison Release Request

R. Kelly
Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images

R. Kelly arrives for a hearing on sexual abuse charges at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on May 7, 2019 in Chicago. 

R. Kelly is a flight risk and a danger to the community, U.S. Department of Justice Attorneys argue in a court motion filed Friday (April 17) asking a federal judge to keep the singer in prison pending trial.

Prosecutors fired back after Kelly made a second emergency plea to the New York court on Thursday to release him from prison amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The singer’s latest bid came 10 days after the NY Federal Court shot down his previous request to be released pending trial.

In opposing Kelly’s release, U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue says that not only does the singer not have any underlying medical conditions, but also that he is a flight risk and a danger to the community. In his memo to the court, Donoghue reminds the court that the charges against Kelly in Chicago include that he participated in a long-running conspiracy to obstruct justice and a conspiracy to receive child pornography, including during the years he was on bail awaiting trial. Donoghue argues that there is probable cause to believe that Kelly committed at least five serious crimes while out on bail.

Prosecutors also argue that it is "disingenuous" for Kelly to say he has "no means to go anywhere" considering that "in the first quarter of 2020 alone Kelly received over $200k in royalty proceeds." In addition, they say Kelly still continues to have a "significant network of individuals to assist him" on the outside and to do his bidding, including posting on social media in support of him and overtly trying to intimidate his accusers.

While Donoghue concedes that the Chicago prison where Kelly is being held has inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19, he points out that Kelly does not have any medical conditions that place him in a high-risk category should he contract the virus. The Bureau of Prisons has put into effect a COVID-19 action plan that includes temperature checks and quarantine procedures, and as of April 10, all staff and inmates at the Chicago prison have been wearing face masks for further protection, according to the DOJ motion filed in court.

"While the government recognizes the seriousness of COVID-19 and the increased risk to certain federal prisoners, a generalized risk alone does not justify releasing the entire BOP populations, much less a prisoner being held for racketeering charges involving crimes against specified victims and with a history of obstructing justice and violating his bail conditions by committing serious crimes," reads the motion submitted to the court by Donoghue.

Kelly’s attorneys had argued that the singer was experiencing tremendous stress and anxiety due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the prisons.

"Inmates are reportedly banging on doors, walls, and windows begging for help," Kelly’s attorney, Michael Leonard, said in a memo submitted to the court Thursday. "The only thing the MCC has done is lock things down, making conditions feel more like solitary confinement: and possibly, because of the nature of this virus, locking in healthy inmates with those who already have the virus but who may not yet be symptomatic."

If released on bond as requested, the singer would live with his girlfriend Joycelyn Savage at a Chicago apartment complex.

"He would submit to any conditions that this court saw fit, including home incarceration," the motion reads.

Steve Greenberg, also an attorney for Kelly, said in previous court papers that requiring his client to stay in the facility under the current conditions is "tantamount to making them drink poison." The court has not yet ruled on Kelly’s latest request.

Kelly faces several dozen counts of state and federal sexual misconduct charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York, from sexual assault to heading a racketeering scheme aimed at supplying Kelly with girls. He was jailed in July and has been awaiting trial in a jail one block from the Chicago courthouse, where he attends pre-trial hearings. He has participated in hearings in his New York case by video.

Kelly's New York trial has been delayed until Sept. 29, Leonard confirmed to Billboard, adding, "He -- like all of the other detainees at the MCC Chicago -- is really struggling. There are now at least six detainees and seven workers who have tested positive. One detainee is reported life and death. They are naturally fearful of their safety. And with very good reason. The only sensible solution is to release him to home confinement/electronic monitoring -- particularly in light of the fact that he is a non-violent alleged offender, who poses absolutely no risk of flight."