R. Kelly’s former manager was sentenced Thursday to 20 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he stalked one of Kelly’s sexual abuse victims in an effort to keep her silent.
Donnell Russell pleaded guilty in July to using threats, harassment and intimidation to silence one of the women abused by Kelly, who was convicted last year on sex trafficking and racketeering charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison in June.
Ahead of his sentencing, Russell’s lawyers argued he should receive only probation, arguing he’d led an “otherwise exemplary life” before “crossing the line in his attempts to curry favor with Robert Kelly.”
But prosecutors strongly disagreed, citing dozens of prior arrests and calling his conduct “abhorrent.” They asked for 24 to 30 months, saying it was needed to deter such behavior: “If victims are concerned that this type of conduct will not be adequately punished, it could chill victims from pursuing legal remedies and from cooperating with law enforcement investigations.”
Following Thursday’s sentencing, Russell’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment from Billboard. Breon Peace, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement that it was a fair punishment for Russell’s “vicious campaign” against an abuse victim.
“The punishment meted out to the defendant today is a victory for crime victims,” Peace said, “particularly those of sexual assault and abuse, who are often reluctant to come forward to law enforcement or pursue legal recourse, given the trauma and fear of retaliation associated with publicly discussing their experiences.”
Prosecutors say Russell, a self-described manager, advisor and friend to Kelly, used “reprehensible” tactics against the unnamed victim after she filed a civil lawsuit against the singer in 2018. They included sending threatening messages to the woman and her mother, and then publishing explicit photos of her on the internet.
“Just a sample. We will seek criminal charges. You’ve been warned,” Russell wrote in a December 2018 message to the victim and her mother, referring to the nude images.
Separate from the stalking charges, Russell was also convicted in July of making a phone threat that gunfire was about to occur at a crowded Manhattan theater that was preparing for a premiere of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly series. The phone threat prompted a call to police and an evacuation that forced the premier to be canceled.
Russell awaits sentencing next week on those charges.