Jurors have found R&B singer R. Kelly guilty of racketeering, including acts of bribery and sexual exploitation of a child, along with separate charges of sex trafficking.
Racketeering became a federal crime in 1970 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and the charge is best known as a tool to prosecute organized crime that affects interstate commerce. At the center of any racketeering case is the “enterprise,” the group entity carrying out the illegal conduct, such as the mafia.
In this case, the enterprise is Kelly and his entourage, as well as his “managers, bodyguards, drivers, personal assistants and runners,” according to the superseding indictment. Kelly is described as the leader of the enterprise.
“The purposes of the Enterprise were to promote R. Kelly’s music and the R. Kelly brand, to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly and to produce pornography, including child pornography,” the indictment states.
Kelly’s defense attorney has criticized this aspect of the case against his client.
“We look forward to the truth and the facts coming to light as the defense will continue to vigorously defend Mr. Kelly,” defense attorney Thomas Farinella said in a statement to CNN before the trial. “After all, the RICO ‘Enterprise’ is based on a series of independent relationships and events that the government is trying to patch together like different types of fabrics and trying to pass it off as silk.”
Kelly was charged with racketeering that has 14 underlying acts: one act of bribery, three acts of sexual exploitation of a child, one act of kidnapping, three acts of forced labor and six acts of violating the Mann Act. The alleged crimes stretch from 1994 up to December 2018 and are based on incidents involving six anonymous “Jane Does,” several of whom were underage.
To convict him of racketeering, prosecutors have to prove that Kelly committed at least two of these 14 underlying acts. Jurors found prosecutors had proven all but two of the 14 of them.
How racketeering benefits prosecutors: CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said it allowed them to charge a broader pattern of conduct that stretches over years and involves many participants. In addition, a racketeering case combines multiple victims’ stories into one trial, which can create a #MeToo-like dynamic. The trials of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, though not racketeering, showed that having more witnesses testify about a pattern of alleged sexual misconduct can have a powerful impact on a jury.
Moira Penza, a former federal prosecutor who led the racketeering case against the cult-like group Nxivm, said the racketeering charge makes this trial very different from Kelly’s previous one.
“Having the RICO (racketeering) charge, in particular, allows prosecutors to really give this aerial view over a long period of time at a very high level of who R. Kelly and his enterprise are, and the types of crimes that they’ve been committing and the ways in which they’ve committed those crimes – that’s a very different case,” Penza said. “You have a lot more evidence that is going to come in and be able to corroborate what the victims are saying.”