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R. Kelly sold some of his music rights for $5 million at the time of his trial, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors argued that the proceeds should be taken into account when the judge imposes a fine.
Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison plus a $140,000 fine, with restitution to be decided later.
R. Kelly secretly has access to millions of dollars from the sale of some of his music royalties and funneled them through a childhood friend at the time of his sex trafficking trial last year, reports prosecutors said in court on Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes disclosed the allegations during the singer’s sentencing hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, just before a federal judge handed down a 30-year prison sentence. Kelly was convicted of sex trafficking in September following a six-week trial.
Geddes noted that Kelly, through her R&B music, received revenue from two separate forms of intellectual property rights. One is from his master recordings, which belong to Sony. The other is the rights to its composition and lyrics, which Kelly personally owned until August 2021 – the month his trial began.
Sony has withheld royalty payments to Kelly on his master recordings as the company deals with judgments related to civil lawsuits against him. They currently hold between $3.5 million and $4.5 million in royalties for Kelly, but owe $7 million in judgments, Geddes said Wednesday.
The songwriting and lyric rights, however, were sold for $5 million in August. (Prosecutors have not identified who purchased them.) The proceeds, prosecutors say, were owned by Kelly’s childhood friend, Keith Halbert. Halbert also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from those rights, prosecutors said.
Jennifer Bonjean, Kelly’s attorney, said at Wednesday’s hearing that she was unaware of the transaction and that royalties “diminished significantly during the trial.”
“I’m not aware that he can get $5 million,” she said.
Bonjean also argued that the potential for future royalties should not be considered because Judge Ann Donnelly, who presided over the trial, considered a fine. Many people refuse to play his music because he is a convicted rapist and sex trafficker, she pointed out. He also struggles to understand the nature of his contracts because he has difficulty reading, she said.
“I think he’s pretty close to needy,” Bonjean said. “He has no regular sources of income.”
Donnelly was fined $100,000 plus a statutory human trafficking penalty of $40,000 in addition to the 30-year sentence. She has also scheduled a restitution hearing for September.
Kelly’s biological sisters, on his father’s side, shook their heads as Donnelly weighed in on the financial penalties he would face behind bars.
“I think the neediness is probably overdone,” Donnelly said.
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