For more than a year, singer R. Kelly has been awaiting trial on federal sexual abuse charges, facing the prospect of watching his accusers and former sexual partners testify against him.
Then, in the early morning of June 11, one of those potential witnesses woke up to find the car in her driveway ablaze in flames.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, announced the arrests of three people — Donnell Russell, Michael Williams and Richard Arline Jr. — who were charged in separate schemes to threaten and bribe Kelly’s accusers, including the burning of the car.
The criminal complaints accused them of attempting to silence the women through harassment. Prosecutors said the schemes involved discussions of bribes as well as threats to reveal sexually explicit photographs of one woman.
Russell and Arline are friends of Kelly, while Williams is the relative of a former publicist for Kelly, according to prosecutors.
Lawyers for the three men could not immediately be identified.
The new arrests add to the government’s existing case against Kelly, who has been in custody at a jail in Chicago since his arrest last summer. He faces federal charges related to the sexual abuse of minors in two separate cases — one in Chicago, the other in Brooklyn.
The indictment in Brooklyn accuses Kelly of leading a decades-long operation to illegally exploit women and girls for his own sexual gratification. Kelly faces nine criminal counts, including racketeering — a charge that has been commonly used against mob bosses.
Prosecutors have said Kelly sexually abused minors and produced child pornography, listing six unidentified women as his victims. To keep the women and girls under his control, he also engaged in kidnapping, blackmail and extortion, according to the indictment.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
He is scheduled to be tried first in New York, with jury selection beginning Sept. 29. The date is likely to be postponed if the coronavirus pandemic prevents in-person trials from resuming in the federal courthouses this fall.