NEW YORK: R&B superstar R Kelly has been arrested on suspicion of having sex with five underage girls, recording some of it on video tapes, and then attempting to hide the evidence, US prosecutors said on Friday (Jul 12).
A 13-count indictment returned Thursday in Chicago also alleged the 52-year-old singer intimidated victims and concealed evidence in a 2008 trial that ended in his acquittal of child pornography charges.
The latest charges include receiving and producing child pornography, enticing a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity and obstruction of justice.
A separate federal indictment unsealed in New York Thursday accused Kelly of recruiting women and girls for sex.
Federal agents arrested the Grammy Award winner Thursday night while he walked his dog in Chicago, his lawyer Steve Greenberg said in a statement.
Two former employees of his music business - Derrel McDavid and Milton Brown - also were charged in the case.
The Chicago indictment alleges Kelly met the five victims in the 1990s and had sex with them when they were under age 18, "creating numerous explicit videos with four of them," federal prosecutors said in a statement.
PAYMENTS FOR VIDEOS
According to the indictment, Kelly and McDavid began paying an acquaintance hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2001 to collect the videos in an effort to hide evidence.
When the unidentified acquaintance planned to go public with the videos, the indictment alleges, Kelly, McDavid and others paid him US$170,000 to cancel the event.
Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, was already facing Illinois state felony charges of aggravated sexual assault, and was out on bail at the time of his arrest.
"The conduct alleged appears to largely be the same as the conduct previously alleged against Mr Kelly in his current state indictment and the former state charges that he was acquitted of," Kelly's lawyer Greenberg said.
"Most, if not all, of the conduct alleged is decades old," he added.
Kelly has a decades-long history of abuse allegations, especially of underage girls. In 1994 he wed his protege Aaliyah, the late R&B star who was 15 at the time.
Kelly, then 27, had produced the teenage singer's debut album titled Age Ain't Nothing But a Number. Their marriage was later annulled, and Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001.
Despite unsettling claims against him, the decorated musician - known for hits including I Believe I Can Fly - has continued to perform and maintain a solid fan base.
'SURVIVING R KELLY'
But his fortunes began to shift after the January release of a six-part documentary called Surviving R Kelly.
The documentary, which alleged that Kelly engaged in sexual, mental and physical abuse of girls and women, prompted Chicago prosecutors to publicly seek out potential victims.
After the state charges were filed in February, Kelly spent three nights behind bars and was released after coming up with US$100,000, a tenth of the US$1 million bail set in court.
The sex acts are alleged to have occurred between May 1998 and January 2010, according to prosecutors.
If convicted of the most serious charges in that case, Kelly would face mandatory sentences of six to 30 years in prison on each count. The latest federal charges carry sentences that range from five to 20 years.
In a March interview, Kelly vehemently denied the charges and said he was "fighting" for his life.
"I didn't do this stuff," he told CBS News.
"Whether they're old rumours, new rumours, future rumours, not true," added Kelly, who became upset and emotional during the interview.
He denied a report by BuzzFeed in 2017 that said he had kept women as virtual sex slaves at homes he owns in Chicago and Atlanta.
Kelly was also briefly detained in March for failing to pay US$161,000 in child support payments he owed to his ex-wife and their three children.