Feds charge R. Kelly with bribing official in Illinois to marry 15-year-old singer Aaliyah in 1994

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A persistent question has dogged R. Kelly’s two-decade music career: How was he able to legally marry the singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was only 15 years old?

On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused Mr. Kelly of bribing an Illinois government employee on Aug. 30, 1994, in order to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah, according to the indictment and a person familiar with the matter.

The fake ID was to be used to obtain a marriage license that listed her age as 18, the person familiar with the matter said. Their marriage was later annulled.

The new allegation expands on an existing racketeering indictment filed in New York against Mr. Kelly that accuses him of sexually exploiting underage girls and coercing them into illegal sexual activity. This year, Mr. Kelly, 52, has been criminally charged in several jurisdictions on allegations that he sexually abused minors.

Aaliyah, whose full name was Aaliyah Dana Haughton, died in 2001 in a plane crash at age 22. She is identified in the new indictment only as “Jane Doe #1.”

In an interview this year with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Steven Greenberg, Mr. Kelly’s lawyer, said his client had “no idea” Aaliyah was 15 when they married.

“My understanding is that she did not claim to be 15, and in order to get married, she had to lie about her age,” Mr. Greenberg said at the time.

Mr. Greenberg said on Thursday that the new indictment “does not appear to materially alter the landscape.”

More than two decades ago, Vibe magazine reported that an Illinois marriage license for Mr. Kelly and Aaliyah listed her age as 18. Mr. Kelly, whose real name is Robert Kelly, was 27 at the time. The license was dated Aug. 31, 1994, the day after Mr. Kelly allegedly paid the bribe.

In the Brooklyn investigation, prosecutors have obtained marriage and annulment records for Mr. Kelly and Aaliyah, as well as Aaliyah’s birth certificate, according to a court document filed late Thursday.

Among the evidence prosecutors have collected are records from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois secretary of state, the filing said. The new indictment did not specify which agency employed the individual who allegedly took a payoff from Mr. Kelly.

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Aaliyah was 14 when she made her first album, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” which was released in 1994 and produced by Mr. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, an R&B singer whose hit singles include “Ignition (Remix)” and “I Believe I Can Fly,” has faced longstanding sexual abuse accusations. Law enforcement scrutiny of Mr. Kelly intensified after several women spoke out publicly in a six-part Lifetime documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” which was released in January.

After the documentary aired, prosecutors in Illinois, New York and Minnesota filed criminal charges against Mr. Kelly, leading to his arrest.

Criminal activity from 1994 would normally fall outside the statute of limitations, preventing prosecutors from filing charges for the act in 2019.

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But the broad racketeering charge Mr. Kelly faces in Brooklyn — where he is accused of leading a criminal enterprise that recruited his fans, sometimes underage girls, to have sex with him — allows prosecutors to introduce acts from any time period that were part of the alleged conspiracy. The statute has typically been used to take down mob organizations.

His associates arranged for the travel and lodging of his sexual partners. But once they arrived, prosecutors said, the women had to follow strict rules. They were not allowed to leave their room without Mr. Kelly’s permission and had to call him “daddy.” They were isolated from their friends and families, making them financially dependent on Mr. Kelly, the indictment said.

Another lawyer for Mr. Kelly, Douglas C. Anton, has said Mr. Kelly was not involved in any criminal enterprise and called the women “disgruntled groupies.”

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The Brooklyn indictment, which was originally filed in June, also accuses Mr. Kelly of kidnapping, forced labor, failing to disclose a sexually transmitted disease to sexual partners and producing child pornography.

Mr. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being detained in federal custody in Chicago.

The singer was first arrested in 2002 on child pornography charges stemming from a tape that prosecutors in Chicago said showed him having sex with and urinating on an underage girl. After a trial, he was acquitted in 2008 on all counts.

A federal prosecutor in Brooklyn recently said Mr. Kelly had paid off witnesses in the Chicago case who wanted to cooperate with the authorities. His lawyer said the witnesses simply decided not to testify.



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