By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Singer R. Kelly on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to bribing an official to get a fake identification document for singer Aaliyah, then 15, the day before he married her, the latest charge in a criminal case accusing him of running a years-long scheme to recruit underage girls for sex.
Kelly, known for such hits as “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump N’ Grind,” entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn federal court by video conference from Illinois, where he is currently jailed.
The 52-year-old R&B singer, whose full name is Robert Kelly, was arrested on separate sets of charges brought by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Chicago, and pleaded not guilty. The allegation involving Aaliyah, who died 18 years ago, was added in a superseding indictment in Brooklyn on Dec. 5.
Prosecutors said that on Aug. 30, 1994, Kelly caused another person to offer a bribe to a government official to create a fake ID for a person identified by the pseudonym “Jane Doe #1.” The person is Aaliyah, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Kelly, then 27, married Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Haughton, the following day. The marriage was annulled in 1995. Aaliyah died in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001.
Douglas Anton, a lawyer for Kelly, said after Wednesday’s hearing that the bribery allegation was “ridiculous.”
Anton added that Kelly was doing well in jail and was continuing to compose music.
“It’s completely uplifting stuff,” Anton said. “He’s just a genius.”
Kelly is scheduled to go to trial in Brooklyn in May 2020.
The singer had denied abuse allegations for decades before the latest charges. In 2008, he was tried on child pornography charges and found not guilty.
The Brooklyn prosecutors have charged Kelly with racketeering, accusing him and his entourage of inviting women and girls backstage after concerts, keeping them from friends and family and making them dependent on him financially.
The Chicago prosecutors said Kelly had sexual contact with five minors and recorded sexually explicit videos of some of them. They also accused Kelly of obstructing justice by using threats and bribes to keep his victims quiet.
A trial in Chicago has been scheduled for April 27.
In addition to the two federal cases, Kelly is facing charges from state prosecutors in Illinois and Minnesota. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)