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Singer Kelly Arrested, Held on 21 Charges

Crime: Grand jury indicts R&B star on child pornography counts in connection with video showing acts with allegedly underage girl.


R. Kelly, the R&B star who has sold millions of albums with his inspirational ballads and languid songs of seduction, was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Florida just hours after authorities in his hometown of Chicago announced an indictment on 21 counts of child pornography stemming from a now-infamous home video.

The charges against the Grammy-winning singer, whose name is Robert Kelly, are based on a 26-minute videotape that allegedly shows him engaging in sexual acts with several female partners, including one who prosecutors contend was 14 years old when the video was made. The tape has been a tawdry sensation on the black market since it surfaced in February and has hobbled Kelly's career.

If convicted, Kelly could face 15 years in prison and a fine of as much as $100,000.

Kelly, 34, was arrested in Polk County, Fla., where he lives with his wife and three children. The arrest infuriated his attorneys, who said they had previously arranged for Kelly to surrender today in Illinois. The singer maintains a recording studio and residences in Chicago, where prosecutors say the incidents allegedly took place.

Hours before his arrest, Kelly released a statement in his defense:

"Even though I don't believe any of these charges are warranted, I'm grateful that I will have a chance to establish the truth about me in a court of law. I have complete faith in our system of justice, and I am confident that, when all the facts come out, people will see that I'm no criminal."

Kelly was expected to be held overnight in Florida and transported to Chicago today.

Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hilliard said at a news conference that the videotape--which came to light after it was anonymously mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times--had been examined by FBI forensics experts and found to be genuine. Hilliard spoke in terms that seemed to portray the case as a betrayal by one of the city's favored sons.

"It's unfortunate to see Mr. Kelly's talents go to waste," Hilliard said. "But it becomes a tragedy when behavior damages the community. Make no mistake, these are very harmful crimes ... involving harmful acts which damage and degrade our children [and] diminish the integrity of our entire community."

More serious charges of aggravated sexual abuse had been sought by authorities, but the Cook County grand jury did not include that in its indictment. Prosecutors may face a difficult road, because the allegedly underage girl depicted in the footage has refused to cooperate with the investigation. The girl's name has not been released by police.

Kelly has been dogged in recent years by rumors of liaisons with young girls, murmurs that were amplified by a series of lawsuits against him and by his relationship with the late singer Aaliyah.

That involvement would lead to Kelly's first brush with public controversy about his personal life. In 1994, he produced "Age Ain't Nothin' but a Number," the debut by Aaliyah, the then-15-year-old Detroit R&B singer. Later it would be revealed that the two married that year, although the marriage was annulled. Aaliyah died last year in a plane crash.

Kelly has acknowledged settling two lawsuits by women who claimed to be former lovers of the singer during their pre-adult years. Another suit was filed in April by a woman who claims Kelly had sex with her when she was a minor and forced her to have an abortion.

Attorney Susan Loggans, who represents the three women in those civil cases, is skeptical that the current case will lead to a conviction. "For a lot of people, R. Kelly is still an icon, and they're going to be very disinclined to convict him without the girl [on the videotape] coming forward and saying, 'Yes that's me.' "

The tape not only pushed the controversy into criminal territory, it also has made Kelly an outcast of sorts in music circles. He has been publicly chided by other artists, and his most recent album, with rapper Jay-Z, has fizzled despite longtime expectations that it would be a hit. Some urban radio stations around the U.S. stopped playing Kelly's music as reports of the videotape circulated and community groups began to organize boycotts against outlets who kept his songs on playlists.

Many music executives and artists declined to comment Wednesday, but Bill Adler, a media consultant who was publicity director for rap-pioneering Def Jam Records from 1984 through 1990, said the unfolding scandal has been intensely watched.

"What you saw immediately when the tape first popped up was that Jay-Z withdrew from all of the promotion for the project, he withdrew from R. Kelly in a big way and, looking at the sales of the project, it seems that R. Kelly's fan base is also recoiling from him. This was a super blockbuster that everyone thought was going through the roof, something that was going to sell 5 million copies or more."

"The Best of Both Worlds" has sold 690,000 copies since its April release. Kelly's label, Jive Records (part of the Bertelsmann Music Group), has a new disc from him titled "Loveland," due in stores by the end of the year, but the fate of that album is now uncertain. Label officials declined to comment Wednesday.

Lou Carlozo of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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