Three men charged with intimidating witnesses in R. Kelly case

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R. Kelly mugshot (Chicago Police Department)

By J. Coyden Palmer

Federal prosecutors have charged three men with attempting to intimidate victims and witnesses in the criminal case against Chicago R&B singer R. Kelly. Three separate criminal complaints were unsealed August 11 in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y. charging defendants Richard Arline, Jr., Donnell Russell and Michael Williams with crimes relating to their efforts to harass, intimidate, threaten or corruptly influence individuals named as alleged victims in the racketeering case.

“These crimes shock the conscience,” stated Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh. “The men charged today allegedly have shown that there is no line they will not cross to help Kelly avoid the consequences of his alleged crimes—even if it means re-victimizing his accusers.

“These acts not only fly in the face of human decency, they insult the very rule of law. HSI will continue to bring the full force of our investigative powers to pursue those seeking to attack witnesses and pervert the cause of justice. To the victims of these and other crimes: we stand with you. We will meet your bravery with our resolve to keep you safe to tell your story.”

Acting United States Attorney Seth D. DuCharme echoed those sentiments. He and others believe Kelly has for years worked with a variety of publicists and security team members who helped identify potential victims for Kelly.

Prosecutors also believe that once Kelly committed a crime against his victims, many of those same individuals helped him to silence victims by either successfully bribing them or threatening them with physical violence and/or character assassination.

“Efforts to illegally influence pending federal cases, whether through threats of violence, intimidation, damage to property, or payments to buy a potential witness’ silence, will not be tolerated,” DuCharme said.

Kelly is facing charges in Minnesota, Illinois, and New York. He has been held without bond since earlier this year, when he was arrested. For two decades, allegations of sexual abuse of minors against Kelly have dogged his career. Several of his alleged victims entered into civil settlement cases. It was not until the 2019 documentary on the Lifetime network, “Surviving R. Kelly,” that there was a renewed effort by law enforcement and prosecutors to build a case against Kelly.

A detail of the federal charges against all three men is listed below:

Richard Arline, Jr., 31, Dolton, Illinois

As alleged, between January 9, 2020 and June 2020, Arline, Jr., a self-proclaimed longtime friend of Kelly, attempted to illegally influence the cooperation and testimony of an alleged victim in the Kelly case. After learning of Arline Jr.’s plan, the victim contacted law enforcement, and under the supervision of law enforcement authorities, continued to communicate with him.

During a series of consensually recorded telephone calls, as well as in calls and texts captured pursuant to a judicially authorized wiretap, Arline, Jr. discussed a scheme in which the victim would receive compensation, including a proposed payment of $500,000, to keep her from cooperating with the government. During one of the recorded telephone calls, Arline, Jr. claimed that he had communicated with Kelly while Kelly was incarcerated via a three-way call with another individual.

The intercepted communications also include Arline, Jr. discussing plans to pay the victim “to be quiet,” explaining that “if I had a way to talk to Rob [Kelly], being next to him, and telling him what’s going on, without nobody listening to, no feds, nobody, he gonna pay her . . . off to be quiet” because “[s]he got too much. She got too much.”

Donnell Russell, 45, Chicago

As alleged, between November 2018 and February 2020, Russell, a self-described manager, advisor and friend of Kelly, used the mail, telephones and the internet to harass and intimidate Jane Doe, an alleged victim in the Kelly case, and her mother, after Jane Doe filed a civil lawsuit against R. Kelly.

Specifically, Russell threatened to reveal sexually explicit photographs of Jane Doe and to publicly reveal her sexual history if she did not withdraw her lawsuit against Kelly and “cease her participation and association with the organizers” of a “negative campaign” against Kelly.

In November 2018, Russell caused a letter with attachments purportedly written by Kelly to be mailed to Jane Doe’s Brooklyn-based lawyer at the time. The attachments included cropped nude photographs of Jane Doe with the following text: “the next two pictures have been cropped for the sake of not exposing her extremities to the world, yet!!!”

In December 2018, Russell, using his alias “Colon Dunn,” sent a series of text messages to Jane Doe and her mother, which contained the same photographs of Jane Doe, and stating “Just a sample.  We will seek criminal charges. You’ve been warned,” as well as “Publishing soon” and “[T]his is Colon.”

On January 3, 2019, Russell allegedly sent additional text messages to Jane Doe and her mother, stating, “Pull the plug or you will be exposed.” On January 6, 2019, Russell, using the Colon Dunn alias, created a Facebook Page named “Surviving Lies,” a play on the title of Lifetime’s “Surviving R Kelly” documentary, and posted screen shots of text messages between Kelly and Jane Doe, which contained the same sexually explicit photographs of Jane Doe.

In late January 2020, Russell appeared on two live interviews with “vloggers” discussing Kelly’s legal troubles, which were streamed live on the internet via YouTube. Russell again displayed the same sexually explicit photographs of Jane Doe and broadcast them publicly over the internet.

Michael Williams, 37, Valdosta, Georgia

As alleged, on or about June 11, 2020, Williams, a relative of an individual who once served as a publicist for Kelly, set fire to an SUV parked outside a residence in Florida where an alleged victim in the Kelly case and others were staying. The vehicle, leased by the victim’s father, was heavily damaged. Fire investigators also detected an accelerant along the outside perimeter of the residence.

Cell site records, surveillance footage, toll records and photographs, and Williams’ internet searches for the victim’s address, revealed that Williams had driven from Georgia to the Florida residence.

Williams also performed internet queries about the detonation properties of fertilizer and diesel fuel, witness intimidation and witness tampering, and countries that do not have extradition with the United States.

All three men are considered innocent of the charges against them until proven guilty in a court of law.

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