R&B singer R. Kelly enters the Cook County Criminal Court Building in Chicago in 2008.
Three sets of parents claim that R&B singer R. Kelly is holding their daughters in an abusive "cult," according to a 4,800-word BuzzFeed News report published Monday morning (July 17). Three former associates of the singer also spoke with reporter Jim DeRogatis, repeating the parents’ accusations and adding details of their own — one says "he is a master at mind control."
Over the years Kelly has had multiple accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against him, including a 2008 case where he was acquitted on 14 charges of making child pornography; that case centered around a videotape that prosecutors alleged showed Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. DeRogatis, who received the tape from an anonymous source in 2000 and turned it over to police, wrote the article that launched the investigation.
The new report claims that the young women fell under Kelly’s sway after being brought to him by their parents in an effort to further their musical careers, but that he then "brainwashed" them.
According to parents and the former associates, Kelly:
* keeps several young women at his homes in Atlanta and Chicago;
* replaces their cell phones with ones specifically used to communicate with him and forbids them to contact their families;
* requires they call him "daddy" and ask permission to leave the studio or their residences;
* films their sexual encounters with him;
* abuses them physically and verbally
The report withholds the identities of the young women but claims BuzzFeed News has verified their identities. The three former Kelly associates who support the parents’ claims — Cheryl Mack, Kitti Jones, and Asante McGee — say that "six women live in properties rented by Kelly in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs, and he controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records."
While some of the parents, who have not seen their daughters for many months, have contacted police, the young women claim that they are not being held against their wills.
"[She] looked like a prisoner — it was horrible," one mother said of her daughter in the report. "I hugged her and hugged her. But she just kept saying she’s in love and [Kelly] is the one who cares for her. I don’t know what to do."
The report says that welfare checks by police in both Illinois and Georgia over the past year did not lead to charges, and that one of the young women told police she was "fine and did not want to be bothered."
While Kelly has been the target of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct — in 1994, he married singer/protege Aaliyah when she was 15 years old; the marriage was annulled — the 2008 trial dragged on for six-and-a-half years and was further weakened by the judge’s decision to focus solely on the sex tape and to exclude other claims. The BuzzFeed story says "a dozen or more civil lawsuits" against Kelly were settled out of court with cash payments from Kelly.
The singer was permitted to tour and record in the years between the sex-tape story’s publication and the 2008 decision — his popular "Trapped in the Closet" video/song series was released during this time — and public interest had largely waned by the time a verdict was reached. Interest revived in 2013 after a Village Voice interview with DeRogatis, but no further action ensued. Kelly has continued to tour and record with less frequency in recent years.
In a 2016 interview with GQ, the singer claimed he had been sexually abused by a relative as a child. He also declined to say whether he was the man in the sex-tape video at the center of the 2008 case.
The BuzzFeed report concludes with a comment from Linda Mensch, a civil lawyer in Chicago who represents Kelly. She and two reps for Kelly had not responded to Variety’s request for comment at press time.
"We can only wonder why folks would persist in defaming a great artist who loves his fans, works 24/7, and takes care of all of the people in his life," Mensch wrote. "He works hard to become the best person and artist he can be. It is interesting that stories and tales debunked many years ago turn up when his goal is to stop the violence; put down the guns; and embrace peace and love. I suppose that is the price of fame. Like all of us, Mr. Kelly deserves a personal life. Please respect that."
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