The Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly” sheds new light on allegations that have circled the R&B star for decades. Maeve McDermott explains.
Attorney Michael Avenatti, who repped Stormy Daniels in her legal battle with President Donald Trump over their alleged sexual tryst, has a new target: singer and accused sexual predator R. Kelly.
Avenatti says he’s unearthed “a bombshell of epic proportions”: a videotape from the 1990s of the R&B star having sex with a 14-year-old girl, which was shared with CNN and turned over to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes state crimes in Chicago.
“It’s over, after nearly two decades of sexual abuse by R. Kelly,” Avenatti told USA TODAY Thursday, predicting that the singer would not “survive” the discovery of his alleged new video evidence.
On Sunday, Avenatti upped the ante, alleging in a new tweet that he’s uncovered evidence related to Kelly’s 2008 acquittal on charges of child pornography.
The lawyer alleges “systematic witness intimidation, evidence tampering, physical threats and payments to witnesses. They rigged the trial.”
In response, Steve Greenberg, Kelly’s Chicago lawyer, said, “R Kelly was represented by some of the best lawyers in Illinois. They challenged the evidence, and the jury found him not guilty. End of story. No shenanigans needed.”
In a Twitter statement last Thursday discussing the tape, Avenatti claimed he has been “quietly” investigating Kelly since April 2018 on behalf of “multiple” clients.
“Included in the evidence we recently uncovered and recovered is a VHS video of Mr. Kelly engaging in multiple sexual assaults of (an underage) girl,” Avenatti said. “This tape, which is clear, is approximately 45 minutes in length and has never previously been disclosed or, until recently, provided to law enforcement.”
Later Thursday, in a second tweet, Avenatti described in graphic detail the events that take place on the tape, including “multiple sexual assaults” of a 14-year-old girl. It said Kelly and the teen are clearly visible on the VHS recording, which shows an identifying mole on Kelly’s back.
“Critically, Mr. Kelly and the victim also verbally refer to the girl as only being 14 on multiple occasions on the video,” Avenatti’s statement said.
After Avenatti’s disclosures about the videotape, Kelly’s lawyer, Greenberg, issued a long statement on Thursday reiterating that Kelly “denies that he has engaged in any illegal conduct, of any kind whatsoever.” Greenberg said he knows nothing of Avenatti’s claims about a video.
“If the video were what it is claimed to be, by sharing it with CNN, Mr. Avenatti would be committing a felony, as would the reporter who viewed it,” Greenberg’s statement said. “That combined with the other facts that I know lead me to question the reports.”
Avenatti, who denies he leaked the video to CNN, stressed that his tape is a different video than the one used against Kelly, 52, in his 2008 child-pornography trial in Chicago, which ended in the singer’s acquittal. That video was unclear and the alleged victim in the tape refused to testify against Kelly at his trial.
R. Kelly timeline: Tracking his career of alleged sexual misconduct
Avenatti would not say whether the girl in the new tape would be willing to testify against Kelly. But he believes the new tape could be the smoking gun against Kelly “because of the content of this video and the clarity of this video and what it depicts,” including sex acts with a girl who states her age as 14 on camera.
CNN reported Thursday it had viewed the tape and said it appears to show a man resembling Kelly having sex with a girl who refers to her body parts as 14 years old and calls the man “Daddy” several times.
In the CNN story (which Avenatti confirmed as accurate), the attorney described his client as a “whistleblower” against Kelly and a man who “knows the identity of the girl and R. Kelly” because he “worked for and has known the singer for decades and has met the girl on a number of occasions.”
Avenatti said this new “critical video evidence establishing Kelly’s guilt” is in a time frame within the Illinois statute of limitations.
Avenatti said he has turned the videotape over to the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in Chicago. He praised Foxx as an “exceptional, dedicated prosecutor” who has “personally committed to investigate the matter fully.”
“There is no slam dunk case by any stretch of imagination especially in a case of this magnitude, but I think Foxx is going to do an exceptional job,” he predicted.
Last month, after Lifetime aired its explosive “Surviving R. Kelly” film series, Foxx publicly called for potential witnesses and accusers against Kelly to come forward so her office could determine if there were any charges that could be filed. However, she said that her office was not actively investigating him at the time.
When USA TODAY asked Foxx’s spokeswoman Tandra Simonton whether that has changed, she replied in an email that the State’s Attorney’s Office “cannot confirm or deny an investigation.”
If and when she brings charges, Avenatti said that prosecuting Kelly now could be “much easier because it’s a different time and because the evidence is so strong.”
He said the culture has changed, thanks in part to the “Surviving R. Kelly” film, which examined allegations of sexual misconduct, including with minors, against Kelly dating back years – none of which have resulted in any criminal prosecution since 2008. The film helped spur the spread of the #MuteR.Kelly hashtag campaign.
Meanwhile, the #MeToo movement to call out sexual misconduct in multiple industries, especially entertainment and media, has been turbocharged since the end of 2017 when scores of prominent men were named and shamed. A few, including fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, are being criminally prosecuted.
Greenberg condemned the “Surviving R.Kelly” film as “regurgitating long-ago rejected claims.” As a result, he said in his statement, Kelly has been judged guilty in the court of public opinion.
“In this age of hashtags we are too quick to rush to judgment simply because something is associated with a hashtag. A hashtag does not make claims credible,” his statement said. “In this country people are entitled to presumption of innocence. Absent conclusive evidence, proof beyond reasonable doubt, I would ask that people follow the principles that make this country great. We will have no further comment.”
The media-savvy Avenatti has been a regular presence in the headlines for the past year thanks to his bombastic style in representing Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who says Trump paid her off during his 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about their one-night stand more than a decade before.
Avenatti also briefly flirted with running for president himself in 2020 but announced in December he had decided against it. He was arrested on domestic abuse charges in Los Angeles in November but prosecutors there decided against filing felony charges.
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