A manager for R. Kelly has been charged with allegedly placing a threatening phone call that shut down the premiere of Lifetime documentary series about the disgraced R&B star at a New York theater, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Donnell Russell, 45, was charged with two counts of threatening physical harm by interstate communication, and conspiracy to do the same, for placing a threatening phone call to NeueHouse in an attempt to prevent the Dec. 4, 2018, screening of Surviving R Kelly, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York. According to a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast, Russell’s call was the last in “coordinated effort” to stop the screening, after the manager tried to draft correspondence to an executive at Lifetime and sent a “cease and desist” letter to NeueHouse.
The private screening was ultimately canceled and evacuated after the gun threat.
“It defies logic that a threat like the one alleged here could stop victims from speaking about their alleged abuse,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a Friday statement. “The violence Mr. Russell allegedly threatened succeeded in shutting down one airing of the documentary, but he was unable to silence the women featured in the film. 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.”
The charges mark the second time this week that Russell has been charged with threatening Kelly’s accusers—after allegedly threatening to reveal sexually explicit photographs of a woman if she did not withdraw the lawsuit against the singer.
Kelly, 52, has been accused by young, mostly Black women of physically, mentally, and sexually abusing them for nearly two decades without major legal ramifications. His career was largely undisturbed by the allegations—and a 2001 exoneration—until a 2017 BuzzFeed News report exposing the singer’s influence over young women who were held involuntarily in his purported “cult.”
Two years later, Lifetime aired a six-hour docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, which explored allegations of the disgraced R&B singer’s sexual abuse of girls and women. “He told me to perform sexual acts while his friends were in the backseat. It was like he owned me,” Lizzette Martinez said in the documentary. “He stole my life from me.”
Prosecutors allege that on the day of the December 2018 screening, Russell and another individual first discussed sending the email to the Lifetime executive expressing “concerns” about the documentary, stating in part “by now, I’m certain you and your production team have met the acquaintance of the alleged survivors and had ample time to witness the character of each woman and/or parent individually.”
Hours after, Russell sent NeueHouse “a cease and desist” letter to stop the screening just as guests had begun to enter the theater.
“When that failed to stop the screening, Russell, using two different cellphones under his control, attempted to contract various law-enforcement agencies in and around the theater, seemingly in a further effort to disrupt the screening,” the complaint states.
Finally, prosecutors allege, Russell contacted the New York City theater directly, threatening that there was a “person in the theater with a gun prepared to shoot up the screening.” Around the time of the call, the manager texted another individual that “the cops may be coming soon.” After receiving the threatening call, the complaint states the NeueHouse employee called 911—forcing the venue to cancel the event and evacuate.
To further conceal his involvement in the scheme, prosecutors allege Russell contacted the individual he texted to delete his message about authorities arriving at NeueHouse. The complaint states that at around 11:20 p.m., hours after the event was canceled, Russell’s mother texted the manager’s cellphone stating, “Be humble when (if) you talk to Rob because you made another move without checking with him first. Even though it was his benefit, he might not approve of your actions!!!.”
On Wednesday, Russell was also charged by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn for allegedly threatening to reveal sexually explicit photographs of a woman and her sexual history if she did not withdraw a May 2018 civil lawsuit against Kelly and “cease her participation and association with the organizers” of a “negative campaign” against the singer.
In Nov. 2018, Russell allegedly mailed a letter to the woman’s lawyer with attachments of cropped nude photographs, the complaint filed by U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York reads. The letter, which was purportedly written by Kelly, said, “The next two pictures have been cropped for the sake of not exposing her extremities to the world, yet!!!” A month later, using an alias “Colon Dunn,” Russell allegedly sent a series of text messages to the woman and her mother with the same nude photographs.
“Just a sample. We will seek criminal charges. You’ve been warned,” the text messages said, according to the complaint. Others said, “Publishing soon” and “[T]his is Colon.” On Jan. 3, 2019, Russell allegedly sent a text saying: “Pull the plug or you will be exposed.”
Prosecutors allege that using another alias, Russell created a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” to post screenshots of texts between Kelly and the woman. The page, with a name playing on the documentary series, had texts that contained sexually explicit photos of the woman.
Two other associates were charged Wednesday alongside Russell, including one who set fire to a parked car outside an alleged victim’s house and another who discussed paying another victim half a million dollars for silence.
“We just learned of the charging of several so-called ‘associates’ of R. Kelly,” Steve Greenberg, the singer’s lawyer, tweeted Wednesday. “Without question, Robert Kelly 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.”
Kelly is facing several charges in New York for allegedly manipulating, enslaving, and sexually abusing women and girls for almost two decades. Prosecutors allege that in order to keep these women and girls under his control, Kelly also engaged in kidnapping, blackmail, and extortion.
He is also facing a 13-count indictment from federal prosecutors in Chicago, where he is accused of sexually abusing underage girls and conspiring with two former employees to rig his 2008 child-pornography trial in Cook County. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.