A former assistant on Friday described his time working for R. Kelly, testifying in the singer’s trial that it was weirder than working for known eccentric Kanye West.
“It was a weird time for me,” Anthony Navarro, who was one of Kelly’s low-level assistants for two years starting in 2007, told jurors in Brooklyn federal court. “The things you had to do were just a bit uncomfortable.”
“It was almost like the Twilight Zone. You went into the gate and it was just a different world. Just a strange place.”
Navarro, who went on to work with other high-profile musicians such as Jay-Z and Taylor Swift, spent hours describing the various bizarre tasks he had to do while working in studios located in Kelly’s mansion basement. Among the tasks he had to complete during his 12-hour shifts were: driving Kelly’s girlfriends, picking up packages, cleaning the singer’s house, and picking up food for anyone who was inside the Olympia Fields mansion.
“The music and production stuff was really good, all the other stuff was kinda strange,” Navarro, 36, said, adding that it was different from similar roles he held with other celebrities, which he described as “very professional.”
Navarro is among four witnesses who have testified for the prosecution during the first week of Kelly’s trial. At least five women are expected to testify in an anticipated month-long trial about the abuse they endured while involved with the once-revered Grammy-winning singer and producer.
Kelly, 54, faces a slew of charges, including racketeering based on kidnapping, sexual exploitation of children, and forced labor. He is also charged with violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits the transport of people across state lines for sex.
Prosecutors have alleged that Kelly abused at least six women and girls, four of whom were minors when he first slept with them. At least two also contracted herpes after Kelly knowingly exposed them to the disease.
Dr. Kris G. McGrath, a professor at Northwestern University and Kelly’s former primary care doctor, testified under subpoena on Thursday that he began prescribing the singer medication to treat herpes symptoms at least as far back as 2007. The doctor told jurors that he first became aware of the possibility Kelly might have herpes much earlier, after a June 5, 2000 visit.
Prosecutors also allege that Kelly bribed an Illinois government employee with $500 to obtain a fake ID for “Princess of R&B” Aaliyah so he could marry her in 1994 after finding out she might be pregnant. At the time, Aaliyah—who died in a 2001 plane crash at 22—was just 15 years old.
The marriage certificate, which was shown to jurors Friday, stated that she was three years older—and thus of legal age to marry the then-27-year-old “Bump N’ Grind” artist.
The Cook County Clerk marriage application, certification, and license stated that the pair got married on Aug. 31, 1994, in Rosemont, Illinois. The pair applied for the marriage a day prior, with Kelly using his Illinois state driver’s license and Aaliyah using a Department of Public Aid card—which did not have a birth date.
Demetrius Smith, the former tour manager for Kelly who helped him obtain the welfare card for the teenager, testified on Friday that Aaliyah also obtained a fake ID that stated she worked for a courier company in order to obtain the marriage certificate.
Smith, who was subpoenaed to testify under oath and granted immunity, was combative with the prosecutors and Judge Ann Donnelly as he described the process to obtain the fake identification that would allow the two singers to get married after Aaliyah revealed she believed she was pregnant.
“I feel like I’m on trial for Aaliyah, shit,” Smith said in front of jurors on Friday. “I don’t feel like I did nothing to deserve prosecution so I don’t know why I have to testify.”
“I am very uncomfortable about this. I don’t understand why I got to be here,” he said in another outburst.
Smith is expected to continue his testimony on Monday about the marriage—that was eventually annulled—that he insisted he objected to but helped orchestrate because he “wanted to stay in the group.”
Caroline Harris, a supervisor at Cook County Clerk’s Office who walked jurors through the documents, also testified on Friday about the pair's marriage. Harris admitted that the Department of Public Aid card Aaliyah used is not “usually eligible” as a proper form of valid identification. The decision on what constitutes a valid form of identification, Harris said, sometimes is up to the clerk handling the application.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. His defense team has argued that accusers had consensual relationships with Kelly—and that the ones who testify are liars who “have an agenda.”
Earlier this week, Jerhonda Pace, a mother of four, alleged she was sexually and physically abused during a six-month relationship with Kelly when she was 16. The relationship, which mostly consisted of sexual encounters at his mansion, ended in January 2010 after the pair got into an argument—and Kelly got so angry he allegedly choked her until she passed out before making her perform oral sex on him.
“I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone I was spending time with him,” Pace, who was the first accuser to testify, said on Wednesday. “I had to call him daddy. I had to wear baggy clothes. I couldn’t leave where I was without permission. I wouldn’t eat without his permission. I wouldn’t even go to the bathroom without his permission.”
On Friday, Navarro confirmed, in part, Pace’s testimony that she had to quickly call down to the studio’s reception desk to speak to Kelly and ask for permission.
“[The girls] had to get permission to get most things,” he said. He added that whenever one of the girlfriends asked for something—ranging from asking for a ride to getting in contact with the singer—he would have to get permission from Kelly or one of his managers before completing the request.
“They weren’t supposed to be wandering around, they weren’t supposed to leave the room,” he said. “It was one of Rob’s rules for us.”
Navarro, who owns a music studio and smoothie business, said he saw Kelly verbally abuse his employees during his two-year employment.
He said that he once witnessed “two girls who had climbed over the fence and were running across the lawn” on the security footage of the front of the Chicago property. “One of the girls had been someone who had been at the house before,” he said. “Back then, I thought they were mid-aged teenagers. Pretty young.”
He also recognized Pace, stating that she was “one of the guests that were at the studio” and that he remembered giving her rides, which was consistent with her testimony.
During cross-examination on Thursday, defense attorney Deveraux Cannick portrayed Pace as a “self-proclaimed liar”—making the young mom repeat several times that she lied about her age to Kelly, profited from a self-published book about her experiences with the singer, and previously told authorities that he had hinted that he had herpes.
The interview, which Pace admitted to remembering in part, appeared to contradict testimony on Wednesday in which she claimed Kelly never told her he had herpes during their relationship.