R. Kelly’s former manager has been arrested on charges related to a gun threat that forced the evacuation of a media screening of “Surviving R. Kelly” early in 2018, according to the Associated Press. The Lifetime documentary, which chronicled the multiple claims of sexual abuse and misconduct against the singer over the years, revived attention on the allegations and played no small role in his arrest last year.
Kelly is in prison awaiting hearings in four jurisdictions on a battery of sexual abuse and misconduct charges, many of which involve women who were minors at the time.
Donnell Russell, 45, was charged with conspiracy and with threatening physical harm by interstate communication, according to the report. He was scheduled to appear remotely Friday before a magistrate judge in Manhattan federal court, although it was unclear who his counsel will be.
Earlier this week, Russell and two other Kelly associates were charged with using threats, intimidation and bribes in an attempt to influence the testimony of the singer’s alleged victims. Authorities said Russell sent a letter to the woman’s lawyer with cropped nude photographs of her and later sent her a text warning her: “Pull the plug or you will be exposed.” In another instance an alleged victim’s car was set on fire outside the residence where she was staying.
Steve Greenberg, Kelly’s longtime attorney, told Variety on Friday of Russell’s most recent arrest, “I think the government is trying to squeeze people and it is overkill.” Regarding the arrests earlier in the week, he posted on Twitter that the singer “had nothing to do with any of these alleged acts by those charged. He hasn’t attempted to intimidate anyone, or encouraged anyone else to do so. No involvement whatsoever.”
The “Surviving R. Kelly” screening, which took place in December of 2018, was held at NeueHouse Madison Square in Manhattan, and was attended by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, along with seven R. Kelly accusers: his ex-wife, Drea Kelly, Kitti Jones, Asante Jones, Faith Rodgers, Lizzette Martinez, Lisa Van Allen and Jerhonda Pace. All of the women spoke out in the documentary, and were set to share their stories on a panel.
Roughly 15 minutes after the screening began, two anonymous, threatening calls were made into the venue with the caller stating that someone had a gun in the theater. The calls were routed to the NYPD who suggested evacuating the theater.
Drea Kelly told Variety later that night, “I do believe that in some shape, form or fashion it is connected to [R. Kelly]. Now, whether he orchestrated it or not, that I cannot say. But I just do not believe in coincidences. Of all the theaters, of all the nights, of all the premiers, it happened with us.” The call was later revealed to be from an area code outside R. Kelly’s home base of Chicago.
William F. Sweeney Jr., head of New York’s FBI office, said it “defies logic that a threat like the one alleged here could stop victims from speaking about their alleged abuse. Each and every day, we do everything in our power to make sure victims of sexual abuse have the opportunity to be heard, and will continue to do so regardless of those who allegedly use violence as a means to stop them,” he said.