On Monday, Buzzfeed published an investigative report about R. Kelly in which multiple sources claim that the R&B singer was keeping six women in a "cult" and "dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records."
The Buzzfeed story is written by Jim DeRogatis, who covered Kelly, a Chicago native, extensively as a critic and reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times and broke the first major story about illegal sexual relationships between Kelly and underage girls more than a decade ago. The singer was ruled not guilty on 14 counts of child pornography by a jury in 2008, but DeRogatis has continued to investigate what he describes as "Kelly's pattern of mistreating women." In 2013, he made the results of his reporting available online.
Since DeRogatis' 2000 story in The Sun-Times, headlined "Kelly accused of sex with teenage girls," there has been an ongoing critical debate about what it means to listen to the singer's music. In early 2004, not long after Kelly's Chocolate Factory album earned year-end acclaim, noted critic Robert Christgau wrote an article in The Village Voice slamming what he referred to as "a confounding development in official pop taste." "No matter how much Kelly has bared his soul, expanded his palette, and seen the error of his ways," Christgau added, "his lies smell like the foulest bullshit." DeRogatis later called out the site Pitchfork for paying Kelly to headline its festival in 2013. The subtitle of a 2015 New York Magazine feature on the singer wondered, "Is it OK to listen to him?"
In light of the latest report from DeRogatis, here's a timeline of Kelly's accusations of sexual crimes.
1994: Kelly Marries an Underage Aaliyah
R. Kelly, a rising star in R&B – as both a solo artist and a producer/songwriter – marries the singer Aaliyah. The pair are working on Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number; at the time, R. Kelly is 27, and Aaliyah is just 15. Vibe later obtains a marriage certificate from the ceremony that falsely claimed Aaliyah was 18 at the time of the union.
According to DeRogatis, the marriage is annulled in Detroit, Michigan – not in Illinois, where it took place – the same year. The two parties agree to never speak about the incident, and in 1997, Aaliyah sues in order to have the false marriage certificate expunged from the record. Accordingly, a Cook County judges seals the documents the same year.
1996: Battery Charges at a Basketball Game
R. Kelly faces charges for battery in Lafayette, Louisiana, after a fight breaks out during a basketball game. One of the local players hurt during the incident needs 110 stitches, and according to MTV News, he files a federal suit against Kelly with three other men.
The singer misses a court hearing about the skirmish, but in August of 1997, MTV reports that the singer has settled the case. The Louisiana district attorney decides that a member of Kelly's entourage was responsible for the bulk of the violence, reducing the severity of the charges against the singer. Kelly receives a sentence of 12 months of unsupervised probation.
1996: Alleged Group Sex With Minors
Later in 1996, Kelly faces a second suit, this time from Tiffany Hawkins, who seeks $10 million in damages. In the suit documents, Hawkins alleges that when she was 15 and the singer was 24, he "engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with (her), including but not limited to engaging in group sexual intercourse with (her) and other minors." She also says she attempted suicide when Kelly broke off the relationship. Kelly counter-sues the same day, claiming that she was demanding money from him and spreading "false allegations" that he was the father of her child. The Sun-Times reports that the suit was settled for $250,000 in 1998.
"There was a complaint by Kelly, there was a complaint by her, it was settled, the settlement is confidential, I have nothing else to say about that case now or ever," Kelly's lawyer, Gerald Margolis of the Los Angeles firm of Manatt Phelps & Phillips, told The Sun-Times.
2000: Chicago Police Sex Crimes Unit Open Investigations into Kelly
DeRogatis receives an anonymous fax after reviewing the TP2.com album in The Sun-Times alleging that the Chicago Police sex crimes unit was investigating Kelly. Working with Abdon M. Pallasch, the two confirm that the police opened investigations against Kelly on two separate occasions, but were unable to find witnesses willing to come forward.
2001: Inconclusive Sex Tape Sent to Sun-Times
Another anonymous item is sent to The Sun-Times: this time, a video that the paper believes shows Kelly having sex with an underaged partner. Reporters pass the footage to the police department, because it could contain evidence of a felony. The police can't identify the identity or age of the woman in the video, but the bootleg circulates nonetheless.
2001: Former Epic Intern Sues for Sexual Harassment
The same year, Tracy Sampson files a civil suit against Kelly for $50,000. "I was coerced into receiving oral sex from a girl I did not want to have sex with," she claims in the suit documents, obtained by DeRogatis. She was 17 at the time and an intern at Epic records. "I was often treated as [Kelly's] personal sex object and cast aside," Sampson's suit adds. The case is settled for an unknown amount.
2002: More Suits and Sex Tapes
Patrice Jones files a $50,000 suit against Kelly claiming he had sex with her when she was 16, got her pregnant and pushed her to have an abortion. The next month, Montina Woods files suit, alleging that Kelly taped them having sex without her knowledge. Both cases are settled for undisclosed sums. Jones' suit is settled out of court; Woods receives money in exchange for a nondisclosure agreement.
In addition, another alleged sex tape is sent anonymously to The Sun-Times. "It's very difficult for me, but you know, I'm innocent," Kelly responds. "… It's crap, and that's how we're going to treat it." This tape leads to Kelly's indictment on 21 child pornography charges in Illinois.
2003: Trouble in Florida
When Kelly is arrested in Florida, the police seize a camera that is also said to contain images of sex with a minor. Florida indicts Kelly on 12 more counts of child pornography. He pleads not guilty. His spokesman, Allan Mayer, describes the additional charges as "a classic case of piling on, in which a local jurisdiction tries to make headlines by attaching itself to a celebrity case."
2004: Uphill Battle in Court
In Illinois, seven counts of child pornography are dropped, leaving Kelly facing 14. In Florida, Circuit Judge Dennis Maloney rules that the search of Kelly's property – which led to the charges of child pornography in that state – was undertaken without sufficient evidence. Those 12 counts are also dropped.
2005: Kelly Gains Ground
In a court hearing, a friend of the girl who appears in the second sex tape says she was 14 at the time, corroborating what the alleged victim's aunt told The Sun-Times when the paper initially received the tape.
According to The Sun-Times, much of the jockeying in the case revolves around when the video was made. Prosecutors winnow it down to a period between January 1st, 1998, and November 1st, 2000, but that does not appear to be enough to satisfy the judge of the case, who believes Kelly cannot be expected to prove an alibi over that many months. "If this is the best you can do, I will make a ruling accordingly," he says.
2008: Kelly Found Not Guilty
After more than six years and numerous delays, R. Kelly goes on trial for child pornography; however, he never takes the stand. Neither does the girl the tape is said to depict or her parents. The defense argues that the identity of the girl in the tape is inconclusive; the prosecution brings 14 witnesses to identify her. A jury of nine men and three women rules that Kelly is not guilty. "All of us felt the grayness of the case," a juror tells The New York Times.
2013: DeRogatis Continues His Mission to Expose Kelly
In an interview with The Village Voice, DeRogatis estimates that during the time he has been reporting on Kelly, he has spoken with "two dozen women" about the singer's sex crimes. He also publishes a detailed report of his investigations online.
2015: Kelly Defends Himself With Vague Comments
In light of the DeRogatis' investigation timeline published in 2013, New York Magazine and GQ both confront Kelly about the allegations in lengthy features pegged to the release of his new album The Buffet. New York wonders if the singer is attracted to young girls; he replies, "That's a rumor that comes from the Earth, like all rumors." GQ asks Kelly if he was the man in the video that was sent to DeRogatis. "Because of my lawyers, to this day I cannot have those kind of conversations," the singer replies. "Being advised by my lawyers in this."
2017: Too Close to the Law
In May, a Mississippi sheriff's deputy files a suit against Kelly, accusing him of having an affair with his wife that "irreparably injured said relationship."
2017: Allegations of Running a Cult
DeRogatis publishes a story in Buzzfeed alleging that "six women live in properties rented by Kelly in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs and he controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records." One woman's mother told DeRogatis, "It was as if she was brainwashed," and accuses Kelly of holding women "against their will."
A rep for Kelly responds with a statement denying the allegations. "Mr. Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed by the recent revelations attributed to him," she said to TMZ. "Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such accusations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name."