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Federal prosecutors want R. Kelly to be sentenced to 25 years in prison

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Later today in a New York City federal courtroom, a judge will be sentencing the disgraced R&B star R. Kelly. Last year, after an emotional seven-week-long trial, Kelly was found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking. Now he could be facing life in prison. It's a moment victims have long been waiting for. NPR's Andrew Limbong from our culture desk is here to tell us more. And just a warning to our listeners, we will be talking about sexual abuse.

Hi, Andrew.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey, A.

MARTINEZ: Now, give us a little bit more detail as to what R. Kelly was convicted of.

LIMBONG: Sure. So at the trial last year, federal prosecutors charged him with racketeering. You might recognize it as, like, the RICO Act. It's something usually used against mob bosses in organized crime cases. And what the prosecutors proved was that Kelly was at the head of a criminal enterprise that used his fame in the music world to lure his victims and coerce them into illegal sexual acts. His victims were, like, girls, young women and boys. And the victims who did testify at the trial spoke about how, you know, it was always someone in Kelly's crew who would hand them a phone number - right? - to say, oh, Kelly is interested in meeting. And then from there, there would be other people who would handle logistics - everything from, you know, traveling - so, like, booking cars or plane tickets - to making sure the victims signed NDAs.

MARTINEZ: How far-reaching did his abuse go?

LIMBONG: Yeah. He essentially hoped to control his victims' lives. You know, he'd coerce his victims into having sex with him or with each other. And he often taped all of this. And besides that, he'd have his bodyguards or drivers or assistants watch over his victims to make sure, you know, they weren't going anywhere unattended to or talking to anyone they weren't supposed to be talking to. And, you know, there were specific rules that the victims had to follow. Like, they had to wear baggy clothes. They sometimes had to ask permission to use the bathroom. And they had to call Kelly Daddy. Kelly also made them write letters and filmed themselves falsely stating that, you know, they were doing this under their own volition and weren't being forced by Kelly at all.

MARTINEZ: Wow. All right. So how much time is R. Kelly expected to get?

LIMBONG: Federal prosecutors are looking for more than 25 years in prison, and it seems likely that they'll get it. That's according to Moira Penza. She's a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that prosecuted Keith Ranieri in the NXIUM cult racketeering case.

MOIRA PENZA: Given the severity of the conduct with which R. Kelly was convicted, the fact that you have multiple victims over such an extended period of time, when you look at the extent of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse that he put these women and children through, I think a 25-year or more sentence is entirely appropriate, and that is likely what we are going to see him sentenced to in this case.

LIMBONG: And Penza says that now there will be a series of high-profile predators hit with racketeering charges. So hopefully that will send a signal not just to the heads of these enterprises, but also to the other people in the orbit.

MARTINEZ: And this isn't the end for R. Kelly because he's got another federal case coming up.

LIMBONG: Yeah, and that one is in Illinois. There he's being charged with sexually abusing minors, creating and receiving child pornography, as well as obstructing justice. And that obstruction of justice charge actually goes back to that 2000 investigation that resulted in the 2008 child pornography trial where Kelly was acquitted of all charges. And so that Illinois trial is set to take place in August.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Andrew Limbong. Thanks a lot.

LIMBONG: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.