Why Is R. Kelly Being Bounced Two Different Federal Courts?

Recording artist ROBERT SYLVESTER KELLY was arrested July 11 on separate indictments by the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of New York.

In Illinois federal court, R. Kelly is charged with:

“producing and receiving child pornography, and enticing minors to engage in criminal sexual activity.  The charges accuse Kelly of engaging in sex acts with five minors and recording some of the abuse on multiple videos.  The indictment also charges Kelly with conspiring to intimidate victims and conceal evidence in an effort to obstruct law enforcement, including an investigation in the 2000s that resulted in his trial in 2008 in Cook County on state child pornography charges.”

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In New York federal court, R. Kelly is charged with:

racketeering predicated on criminal conduct including sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and Mann Act violations involving the coercion and transportation of women and girls in interstate commerce to engage in illegal sexual activity.  Kelly is also charged with … exposure of [one victim] to an infectious venereal disease without her knowledge.”

In an effort to get bail, Kelly’s lawyer unsuccessfully asserted that Kelly had no means to flee because he has no money. And “Unlike his most famous song, ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ Mr. Kelly doesn’t like to fly,” his lawyer told Judge Leinenweber.

Since his arrest, Kelly has been held without bond at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

Why They Made A Federal Case Out of It

Most sex crimes are matters of state law and are prosecuted by the state. Why did they make a federal case out of R. Kelly’s alleged crimes?

Child PornographyFederal jurisdiction is extremely broad with respect to child pornography as federal law prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce. This includes using the U.S. Mails or common carriers to transport child pornography across state or international borders. Additionally, federal jurisdiction almost always applies when the Internet is used to commit a child pornography violation because federal law may be implicated if the materials, such as the computer used to download the image or the media used to store the image, originated or previously traveled in interstate or foreign commerce.  (See 18 U.S.C. § 2251; 18 U.S.C. § 2252; 18 U.S.C. § 2252A).

The Mann Act. The Mann Act is a federal law that outlaws prostitution and unlawful sexual activities when they involve interstate or foreign travel. In 1978, Congress expanded the Mann Act to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of all children, not just girls. Then in 1986, Congress again expanded the law to criminalize noncommercial exploitation, such as transporting children for child pornography, whether or not the production was for commercial purposes.

Kelly is charged with violating the Mann Act by transporting a victim interstate and violating New York law by recklessly endangering the victim. He is accused of violating other sections of the Mann Act by coercing or enticing a child to engage in unlawful sexual activity and of transporting a child in interstate commerce for similar reasons.

Racketeering. Racketeering is a criminal activity in which a person or organization engages in a “racket.” A racket is when the criminal creates a problem for others for the purpose of solving that problem by some type of extortion. Originally intended to take down Mafia crime bosses, RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) allowed prosecutors to charge the crime bosses for the crimes actually committed by subordinates in the organization. So why is R. Kelly accused of racketeering? The “racket” headed by R. Kelly is one in which he recruited minors at concerts so he could groom them, indoctrinate them into his alleged “sex cult,” and abuse them.

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Perhaps federal prosecutors were spurred to indict R. Kelly after the hugely popular The Surviving R. Kelly docuseries was aired, which features over 50 women giving interviews about suffering from or witnessing sexual and emotional abuse from Kelly.

Have you watched Surviving R. Kelly? Do you think federal prosecutors were emboldened by the docuseries?

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