Singer R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in prison in sex trafficking, racketeering case

Disgraced R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday following his 2021 conviction on racketeering and sex-trafficking charges.


Disgraced musician R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday in a New York federal court.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly sentenced the R&B star after she and the court heard statements from Kelly’s victims and also ordered him to pay a $100,000 fine, according to the Associated Press.

“Although sex was certainly a weapon that you used, this is not a case about sex. It’s a case about violence, cruelty and control,” the judge told the multiplatinum singer, who was convicted of federal sex trafficking and racketeering in September.

Kelly, 55, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, again came face to face with his accusers during the sentencing hearing in Brooklyn as several of the women recounted the pain he inflicted on them, telling him that they are “no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were,” the AP said.

“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel. Do you remember that?” one woman asked the fallen R&B star in Brooklyn court as he awaited sentencing.

Another victim said the Grammy Award winner, known for the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the raunchy musical odyssey “Trapped in the Closet,” manipulated fans into believing that he was someone other than the man the jury saw. Another said the verdict had restored her faith in the justice system.

The emotional sentencing hearing came more than nine months after a federal jury in New York convicted the “I’m a Flirt” singer on nine counts, including sex trafficking and racketeering, to coerce women, as well as underage girls and boys, into sex.

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Kelly has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn since the September verdict. The musician kept his hands folded and looked down as he listened to the witnesses, AP reported. He has denied wrongdoing, and he plans to appeal his conviction.

Earlier this month, prosecutors asked that Kelly spend “in excess of 25 years” behind bars, arguing that he is a danger to the public. Prosecutors also pointed to his lack of remorse for exploiting his fame to lure victims.

Kelly’s defense team pushed for the minimum sentence of 10 years or fewer, arguing that Kelly “experienced a traumatic childhood involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence” and that his victimization continued into adulthood, where he was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him” because of his literacy deficiencies.


After the long-awaited six-week trial last summer, a federal jury concluded that the Grammy winner had used his celebrity status to procure, then mentally and sexually abuse, girls and young women during a 25-year period. The operation — involving a network of managers and aides who helped Kelly meet girls, and keep them obedient and quiet — amounted to a criminal enterprise (thus the racketeering charge). They also found that Kelly violated the anti-sex trafficking law known as the Mann Act.

A courtroom sketch of a man seated at a table.
In this courtroom sketch, R. Kelly and his attorney Jennifer Bonjean, left, appear during his sentencing hearing in federal court,in New York.
(Elizabeth Williams / Associated Press)

“This is a significant outcome for all victims of R. Kelly and especially for the survivors who so bravely testified about the horrific and sadistic abuse they endured,” U.S. Atty. Breon Peace said in a post-sentencing news conference outside the courthouse. “R. Kelly is a predator, and as a result of our prosecution can serve a long jail sentence for his crime.

“He continued committing his crimes for almost 30 years and avoided punishment until today. Today the sentence showed that the witnesses retained control of their lives and over their futures. These are voices of mostly Black and brown women and children that were heard and believed ... justice was finally achieved. This is a victory for them, for justice and for future survivors of sexual assault.”

Steve Francis, executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations, added that Kelly’s sentencing “sends a clear message that no amount of money or fame is enough to evade justice” or buy immunity and that “the United States government will hold you accountable for any atrocities you commit.”

“Although we are disappointed in the sentence, we are eager to bring Mr. Kelly’s appeal before the Second Circuit,” Kelly’s defense attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said in an e-mail to The Times. “We continue to maintain that the government overcharged and then failed to prove racketeering and Mann Act violations.”

Earlier this month, Bonjean represented embattled comedian Bill Cosby in a civil trial that played out unfavorably for “The Cosby Show” star in Los Angeles Superior Court. A civil jury found Cosby liable in the sexual abuse of a teenage Judy Huth in the 1970s, and he was ordered to pay $500,000.

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Kelly’s sentencing had been postponed from May because a pre-sentencing report had not been filed, according to CBS. At the time, the judge also denied his attorney’s request to postpone sentencing until after the musician’s trial this August in a separate federal case in his hometown of Chicago.

Sexual misconduct allegations have dogged the hitmaker for decades but were repeatedly sidelined as he built a musical empire on his sexually explicit songwriting, with titles such as “Ignition,” “Bump N’ Grind” and “Your Body’s Callin’.” The singer-producer long seemed invincible, evading criminal responsibility despite dire accusations involving young women and children — even those stemming from his marriage to his musical protégé Aaliyah Haughton, who died in a 2001 plane crash at age 22. (According to court testimony, Kelly abused her when she was 13 or 14 and falsified documents so he could marry her when she was 15 and he was 27.)

But, as with other famous and powerful men, the allegations caught up with the singer in 2018 following the #MeToo movement.

Widespread public condemnation came in tandem with the Emmy-nominated Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which allowed several of his accusers to share their stories. The saga, and its 2020 follow-up, “The Reckoning,” gave rise to the viral #MuteRKelly campaign that began to interfere with the musician’s ability to perform onstage.

In early 2019, RCA Records dropped Kelly, and within weeks, a grand jury in Illinois’ Cook County had indicted him on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Nine of those counts identified victims as being 13 to 16 years old. Then, Kelly sat down — and stood up — during his infamous CBS interview with Gayle King, during which he grew agitated over questions about his legal troubles.

Kelly’s trial was repeatedly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic but finally took place last August. Kelly’s lawyers argued that his own history as an abused child might have led to his adult “hypersexuality.”

Kelly’s upcoming trial in Chicago relates to federal charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice stemming from accusations that he videotaped himself having sex with underage girls, paid hush money and intimidated witnesses to cover up his alleged crimes, as well as multiple sexual assault and sexual abuse charges in Cook County. He has pleaded not guilty.

Experts have said separate state charges could potentially be dropped due to the singer’s lengthy prison sentence in New York. However, it is unlikely that federal charges in Chicago will be dropped.

The singer is also facing a solicitation charge in Minnesota; he’s accused of offering a 17-year-old girl $200 to take off her clothes and dance in 2001.