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R. Kelly Faces a Boycott as Sexual Allegations Swirl

Pop Music* Singer is accused of having sex with minors, captured on videotape. A tour was canceled, but no charges have been filed.

April 19, 2002|LOU CARLOZO | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"They have to be able to establish it's really him," said Kimberly Hart, executive director of the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center in Holland, Ohio. "Then they have to prove she's underage. Sometimes it's pretty hard to tell. Then you've got the issue of whether the girl is cooperating with authorities. Any time the government does not have the [victim] on their side, they've got a headache."

"You're looking at something that's difficult for law enforcement, in terms of charging a crime," said Jay Howell, a Florida attorney representing sex abuse victims and a former prosecutor in that state.

"We very much believe there is a person or persons whose motivation is to destroy his career," Touhy said. "He's devastated by this whole series of events.... In addition, there's the pain of knowing that people you formerly trusted are attempting to hurt you."

Requests for an interview with Kelly were declined.

Earlier this month, Kelly reached an out-of-court settlement with former Epic Records intern Tracy Sampson, according to her attorney, Susan Loggans. Sampson alleged that between May 2000 and March 2001, Kelly induced Sampson "into an indecent sexual relationship," the suit stated. Sampson was 17 at the time, the suit said. Because of a confidentiality agreement, Loggans could not discuss the settlement between Kelly and Sampson.

Kelly Married Aaliyah When She Was 15

In 1998, Kelly settled another sex-based lawsuit with Tiffany Hawkins, who was also represented by Loggans. That suit, also settled out of court, accused Kelly of engaging in a sexual relationship with Hawkins while she was a minor.

And in 1994, Kelly was briefly married to a minor, Aaliyah Haughton, who reported her age as 18 on the couple's marriage certificate. The singer, who died last year in a plane crash, was just 15 at the time of the marriage, which was annulled a short time later, according to news reports.

"A lot of people have asked why the state's attorney's office didn't look into this earlier," Loggans said. "He married Aaliyah and she was 15 years old. If this was the common man, he'd be in jail now."

Cook County state's attorney's office spokesman John Gorman said that Kelly's activities with Aaliyah happened "under a previous administration" and that the current office would have no idea why charges were not filed at that time.

Even as Kelly denies any wrongdoing, forces are coalescing that could threaten the singer's career. A boycott against Kelly that began two weeks ago spread last week into a boycott against Chicago's WGCI-FM (107.5). Protest leaders also asked two of the station's biggest advertisers, Burger King and SBC Ameritech, to stop advertising. (Burger King representatives did not return phone calls; an SBC Ameritech spokesman said he was "unaware" of any boycott and that the company did not plan to pull ads.)

"We've given [WGCI] a week and they've refused" to stop playing Kelly's music, said the Rev. Bamani Obadele, a community organizer and co-leader of the boycott. "This issue has gotten out of hand. For a radio station like GCI to continue to play [his music], it angers me. That's the bottom line, and I'm going to send a message as a black father and minister that I won't stand for it."

Marv Dyson, WGCI's president and general manager, said he would continue to play Kelly's music.

"I understand the charges are very severe," he said. "But I'm not pulling R. Kelly at this point because he's innocent until proven guilty. I have deep concern for the African American community, but I'm not going to take R. Kelly records off the radio until he's had his day in court.... I am just really hell-bent on giving this man his constitutional rights."

The R. Kelly/Jay-Z single "Get This Money" was WGCI's second most requested single as of last week and 80% of people e-mailing the station support Kelly. But if he is found guilty, "I am absolutely certain it would end [his] career," Dyson said.

*

Tribune staff reporters Emily Biuso and Raoul V. Mowatt contributed to this article.

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