R. Kelly’s onetime manager was sentenced Monday to a year in federal prison for calling in a shooting threat that halted a screening of a damning documentary about the R&B star.
The punishment won’t add to the time ex-manager Donnell Russell is already set to serve for a different effort to squelch sexual abuse claims against Kelly.
Russell told a Manhattan federal judge Monday that he had “made bad judgments” while briefly working with the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer.
“I’m not a horrible person,” Russell said.
Russell said he reconnected with Kelly, a fellow Chicagoan he’d met decades earlier, as the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer was facing a growing series of accusations that eventually fueled Kelly’s sex trafficking and racketeering conviction last year. Russell said he set out to help Kelly with intellectual property matters that he thought could yield the performer money to pay legal bills.
But prosecutors said Russell also worked on something else: trying to suppress the abuse allegations. He tried to intimidate at least one accuser, threatened to sue over Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” series and eventually phoned in the warning that shut down the documentary’s 2018 Manhattan premiere, according to prosecutors.
The series spotlighted allegations that Kelly had sexually abused women and girls. Some accusers were set to speak at a panel discussion after the premiere.
The phone call claimed that someone at the event had a gun and intended to fire. The screening was canceled and the theatre evacuated.
“I was happy that it ended. I didn’t question how it ended,” Russell said in court Monday, adding that he recognizes that people have “a moral obligation” to make sure that things they get involved in are proper.
Prosecutors linked Russell to the episode through phone records and a text he sent about police potentially arriving at the venue. At trial, his defense argued that there were lots of phone calls to the theatre that day and that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he committed a crime.
A jury convicted Russell in July of threatening physical harm through interstate communication, while acquitting him of conspiracy.
Days after the verdict, Russell pleaded guilty to an interstate stalking charge involving one of Kelly’s sexual abuse accusers. A Brooklyn federal judge sentenced Russell last month to 20 months in prison for conduct that included sending threatening messages to the woman and later publishing explicit photos of her online.
Russell, 47, is due to turn himself in next year to serve his sentences in both cases simultaneously.
At Monday’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said Russell had engaged in “serious criminal conduct” in “a misguided attempt to protect someone who was a prolific abuser.”
Kelly was sentenced in June to 30 years in prison in his sex trafficking and racketeering case in Brooklyn federal court.
In September, a Chicago federal jury convicted him of producing child pornography and enticing girls for sex, though jurors cleared him of a charge of rigging his state-level child pornography trial in 2008. He is set to be sentenced Feb. 23 in that case.
Kelly also faces state-level charges in Chicago and in Minnesota related to sexual misconduct allegations. He has pleaded not guilty in Chicago. The singer has yet to be brought to Minnesota’s Hennepin County to answer the charges there, but one of his lawyers called the case “beyond absurd” when it was announced.