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Federal Charges Escalate Sex Abuse Case Against Singer R. Kelly


R&B singer R. Kelly is in federal custody today. He was arrested last night in Chicago on charges including child pornography and obstruction of justice. Kelly has, for years, been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. The musician was already out on bond facing 18 counts of sexual assault and abuse in Cook County court. But the charges filed yesterday are the first federal charges against him.

Reporter Patrick Smith of member station WBEZ has been following the R. Kelly case and joins us now. Hi, Patrick.


MARTIN: So what can you tell us? What do we know - what exactly do we know about these newest charges?

SMITH: Well, we know that a federal grand jury here in Chicago returned a 13-count indictment yesterday and that R. Kelly was arrested around 7 p.m. last night here in Chicago near his condo, actually, in Trump Tower downtown. As you mentioned, these are the first federal charges against Kelly who has, for years, been accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

MARTIN: The federal indictment, as I mentioned at the top - I mean, this comes on top of a whole array of state charges that he was already facing in Illinois. How do the federal charges differ from the state ones? Do we know at this point?

SMITH: Well, I mean, what - we don't know a lot about what the federal charges will say. I will say that this really is, like, the latest step in sort of escalating legal problems for Kelly. Those state charges you were talking about, they were filed back in February originally. They allege that R. Kelly sexually abused and/or assaulted four women, three of whom were minors at the time. So those were originally filed in February. Then in May, prosecutors upgraded some of those charges and filed the most serious charges we've ever seen Kelly charged with, including aggravated sexual assault, which is a Class X felony here in Illinois and carries up to 30 years in prison for each count.

And now we have these federal charges, which we don't know - besides - we know child pornography and obstruction of justice; we don't know exactly what's in there. But obviously, the fact that it's federal means we're in a whole new arena. And I will say that, just from my experience, federal prosecutors do not tend to charge crimes that they don't believe they can prove in court. I mean, that's probably true of all prosecutors, but federal prosecutors have a pretty strong track record.

MARTIN: High bar, yeah. So the federal indictment is supposed to be unsealed today. What are you going to be looking for as someone who's been following this case against R. Kelly for a long time?

SMITH: Well, I'll be looking for a couple of things - one, looking to see if there are new alleged victims in here. You know, the case that's in state court, there are four alleged victims in there. Many of them were already known. They had either already come forward or - yeah, have already come forward and told their stories of alleged abuse at the hands of R. Kelly.

I'll also be looking to see when the alleged crimes happened. You know, all of the alleged crimes in state court happened 10 years ago or more. Those kinds of cases are really hard to prove, you know, when they're that old. I'll be interested to see if any of these happened more recently, if there are any allegations that he's done anything in the last decade.

MARTIN: WBEZ reporter Patrick Smith in Chicago for us this morning. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Patrick Smith
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