Officials in the Midwest U.S. city of Chicago are charging Grammy winning rap singer R. Kelly with child pornography. The charges stem from a videotape officials say shows Robert Kelly having sex with an underage girl.
Police say they began investigating Mr. Kelly when the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper gave them a videotape that had been sent to the paper anonymously. It allegedly shows Mr. Kelly having sex with a girl believed to be as young as 14. Cook County prosecutor Dick Devine says FBI experts have determined the tape is authentic, and charges have been filed against Mr. Kelly.
"Today, Robert Kelly, commonly known as rap artist R. Kelly, was charged with 21 counts of child pornography. If convicted of these Class I felonies, he can face up to 15 years in prison," he announced.
Mr. Kelly is a Grammy-winning singer who rose from childhood poverty on Chicago's South Side. As a youngster, he sang for spare change at Chicago train and subway stations. In the 10 years since releasing his debut album, Mr. Kelly has sold more than 23 million albums.
Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard says none of that matters to officials. "The fact that he is a celebrity is of no importance to us. The fact that children and communities have been harmed as a result of his actions is very, extremely important to us," he said.
Mr. Kelly's lawyer says he will disprove the charges. He says officials have mis-identified the young woman on the tape, and says the woman shown was over age 18 when the tape was made.
The scandal has hurt Mr. Kelly's career in recent months. There have been calls in Chicago and some other U.S. cities for music stores and radio stations to stop selling and playing his music. Also, Mr. Kelly's album with rapper Jay Z became a commercial flop after the scandal broke in February. The singer has also refused to appear publicly with Mr. Kelly in recent months.
Chicago Police Superintendent Hillard calls the charges named in the indictment serious crimes that damage and degrade children. "It is unfortunate to see Mr. Kelly's talents go to waste," he said, " but it becomes a tragedy when behavior damages a community. Make no mistake, these are very harmful crimes."
Mr. Kelly is also the focus of at least four lawsuits, three of which accuse him of having sex with an underage girl. Mr. Kelly has settled two of the suits and is fighting a third.
Mr. Kelly was briefly married to the late singer Aaliyah in 1994. She was 15-years-old at the time and lied about her age to get a marriage license.