R. Kelly manager Donnell Russell called in NYC threat to save money, feds say
R. Kelly’s former manager called in an active-shooter threat to a Manhattan club showing Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” — because he feared the documentary about the disgraced R&B star would hurt his “bottom line,” federal prosecutors charged at the opening of his trial Wednesday.
Donnell Russell is accused of phoning the NeueHouse Madison Square on Dec. 4, 2018, and telling an employee that someone in the crowd had a gun and was going to “shoot up” the place, causing the building to be evacuated.
“The call was short. The defendant was to the point. And he was terrifying. Someone at the event had a gun and was going to shoot up the place,” Assistant US Attorney Laura Pomerantz told jurors in Manhattan federal court Wednesday.
The members-only club that night was hosting a screening of the docuseries about Kelly, as well as a panel discussion that was set to feature a number of victims of the convicted sex predator.
“He wanted to keep these women quiet and he succeeded. His threat worked,” Pomerantz said. “The women did not speak that night. That was because the defendant picked up the phone and made that threat about an active shooter in a crowded New York City theater.”
Russell called in the threat, Pomerantz alleged, because the docuseries could have damaged Kelly’s reputation — and in turn cost him money as the “Ignition” singer’s manager.
He “depended on R. Kelly continuing to perform and making money,” the prosecutor said.
“If R. Kelly couldn’t get hired to perform … couldn’t have his music sold, that hurt the defendant’s bottom line,” she told jurors.
Russell’s attorney, Michael Freedman, encouraged jurors to focus on the evidence in the case, which he said was limited and could not prove his client’s guilt.
“The evidence on this isn’t going to be black and white. That call isn’t recorded. You’re not going to hear the threat call,” Freedman said.
Freedman said Russell did call the theater a number of times that night, seeking to get the event canceled, but claimed he did so because he believed the docuseries would violate copyright laws.
The employee who received the threat call, Freedman added, will testify that the person’s voice on the other end of the line sounded like he had a Brooklyn accent.
“He’ll tell you at some point got a call from a different guy who sounded like he had a different voice,” Freedman said.
Russell is charged with making an interstate threat and a related conspiracy charge for allegedly making the phone call. He faces 10 years behind bars if convicted.
Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in June after his conviction on nine counts, including racketeering and violations of the Mann Act.
Prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York proved at trial that he led an organization that trafficked girls across the country for him to sexually abuse.
One of his victims was R&B singer Aaliyah, whom Kelly illegally married in a Chicago hotel room when she was 15 years old.
Kelly, 55, is still facing charges in Minnesota of engaging in prostitution with a minor, as well as federal charges in Illinois of pornography and obstruction. His federal trial in Chicago is set to begin Aug. 15.
An attorney for Kelly did not respond to request for comment.
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