Rhythm and blues star R. Kelly has been indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Cook County, Ill.
Kimberly Foxx, the Cook County state's attorney, announced the charges during a press conference held in Chicago on Friday afternoon. She said that a grand jury indicted the singer, born Robert Kelly, on 10 counts involving four alleged victims, whom Foxx identified as "H.W.," "R.L.," "L.C." and "J.P."
Foxx said that "H.W.," "R.L." and "J.P." were all under age 17 at the time of the alleged incidents, which reportedly took place over more than a decade, from 1998 to 2010. Kelly, now age 52, would have been in his 30s or 40s in that time frame.
Foxx, who took no questions, noted that each count is a Class 2 felony in that state and a probational offense that carries a potential sentence of three to seven years.
According to Illinois law, the statute of limitations has not run out on the alleged incidents. A bond hearing will be held on Saturday afternoon.
Kelly's lawyer, Steven Greenberg, did not immediately return NPR's request for comment. But he has maintained his client's innocence regarding all allegations, as has Kelly himself.
The Cook County indictment comes amid revived controversy around the singer, which came to a boil last month when the Lifetime TV network aired a six-part docuseries called Surviving R. Kelly that features more than 50 interviewees and lays out 25 years of allegations against Kelly dating back to the early 1990s. The series includes on-camera interviews with several women who have come forward publicly with their accusations. More recent allegations against the singer emerged in a 2017 BuzzFeed investigation. The BuzzFeed piece reported accusations that Kelly runs a sex "cult" composed of women whom he regularly abuses — and it helped uncork a torrent of outrage, including the #MuteRKelly protest movement.
Yet for all the fresh anger that followed the publication of the BuzzFeed piece, allegations of sexual misconduct by R. Kelly are nothing new: Questions have swirled around his behavior with teenage girls since at least 1994, when R. Kelly — then 27 — briefly married his 15-year-old protégée, Aaliyah. The marriage was annulled within months.
Since then, Kelly has faced a series of lawsuits and allegations, none with graver legal consequences than the charge that he videotaped himself having sex with and performing lewd acts on an underage girl. The tape's existence was revealed in 2002 by Chicago journalists — including Jim DeRogatis, who would write the BuzzFeed story a decade and a half later — and resulted in Kelly's arrest just months later.
In 2002, Kelly was charged with more than a dozen counts related to child pornography. But due to a variety of delays, he did not go to trial until 2008, at which point he was acquitted on all counts. (Neither the young woman who reportedly appeared on the 2002 tape nor her parents testified in Kelly's trial, though several other family members and friends did identify her during the court proceedings.)
Within days of Surviving R. Kelly having aired, public pressure against the singer mounted dramatically. Some of his previous collaborators — such as Lady Gaga — began to publicly distance themselves from him. And his label, RCA Records, owned by Sony Music Entertainment, bowed to the pressure and dropped the singer last month. This month, CNN reported that its newsroom had seen a newly surfaced VHS tape that prominent lawyer Michael Avenatti says he has given to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Avenatti says that he is representing a male "whistleblower."
CNN described the tape as being over 45 minutes long and said it shows a man who appears to be Kelly and a teenage girl; both the man and the teenager repeatedly refer to her purported age, 14 years old. The video, CNN says, shows the man and the girl in a number of sexual acts as well as the man urinating on the teenager. Those acts are similar to the ones that Kelly was alleged to have committed on the 2002 tape.
On Thursday, lawyer Gloria Allred held a press conference with two more women, Rochelle Washington and Latresa Scaff, who allege that R. Kelly pursued them for sex when they were teenagers, in an incident that they say happened more than 20 years ago.