Jurors hear key testimony from famed fixer in R. Kelly’s alleged plot to derail early criminal investigation

CHICAGO — Jurors in R. Kelly’s federal child pornography trial on Tuesday heard a story seemingly ripped from a B-movie script: Hidden Hotel Meetings. Sex tapes. Bags full of cash. Tough guys with guns.

But this was no movie, according to Charles Freeman, a key prosecution witness who was at the center of it all.

Instead, Freeman said, it was an actual cloak-and-dagger scheme orchestrated by Kelly and his associates to retrieve video of the R&B superstar allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Freeman was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in exchange for getting back at least one of the tapes, he said.

The plot as described by Freeman spanned nearly a decade and unfolded in cities from Chicago to Kansas City and Atlanta, in Kelly’s music studio, concert venues and even the singer’s sprawling mansion in Olympia Fields, Illinois, where freeman said he was told to strip. naked and stepped into a pool to prove she wasn’t wearing a wire.

Attorneys for Kelly and co-defendants Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown are scheduled to begin cross-examining Freeman on Wednesday. It should be alive: In opening statements last week, defense attorneys told jurors Freeman is a con man, extortionist, liar and criminal.

Freeman is testifying under an immunity deal from prosecutors. His testimony is key to allegations that Kelly, McDavid and Brown conspired to cover up Kelly’s misdeeds while she was being investigated and prosecuted for child pornography.

Freeman entered the packed courtroom Tuesday wearing a blue suit and dark glasses. He removed his glasses and black face mask before beginning to testify.

Throughout his three hours on the stand, Freeman spoke bluntly about the business he was in, acknowledging that he brought along bodyguards as “muscle” to meetings with Kelly’s associates and spent nine years of his life obsessed with “getting that money”. that they had promised him.

Freeman’s vivid but often muddled recollections of events years ago left many in the courtroom — including attorneys and, sometimes, some jurors — with confused expressions as he described the “excuses” the Kelly camp kept giving him. . failing to pay, or telling jurors how in a meeting with them, he produced a videotape he had hidden “between my pants and my cheeks.”

Kelly, meanwhile, was animated as he listened to the testimony, leaning down to whisper to his lawyers and appearing to laugh at one point as Freeman described how they became friends in the early 1990s after a misunderstanding over a jacket.

Their friendship began while Freeman was doing merchandising for a tour that included Kelly’s first band, Public Announcement, she said. He said they bonded over basketball and “became really cool and friends.” Then, in 2001, he got a call from Kelly, who said she wanted Freeman to “retrieve some tapes.”

A short time later, he heard from McDavid and private investigator Jack Paladino, he testified, who said there would be a “reward” if he could get the stolen video back. At the time of the calls, he did not know what was on the tape, he said.

“Derrell said it was a performance tape that they really needed to recover and if I recovered the tape they would take care of me,” Freeman said. “Those were his exact words.”

Freeman said an ex-girlfriend of Kelly’s, Lisa Van Allen, had stolen the video and given it to some people in Atlanta, he testified. He signed a contract in August 2001 to recover the tapes for $100,000 plus expenses – not the millions of dollars he had agreed to, he said.

McDavid told him he would take the full million, “but how do we know what you’ve discovered is what we want? We need originals and make sure these are the actual documentary films,” Freeman said.

“It would look bad if we gave you a million dollars for a tape and it’s not the tape we want,” McDavid said, according to Freeman’s testimony.

Freeman drove to a house in Georgia a few days later. He said he “argued that they wouldn’t just hand over” anything and that they would have to “muscle”.

“A young lady came to the door and I said ‘I’m here to retrieve the MF tapes you stole from Robert Kelly.’ Those were my exact words,” Freeman said. He said he could see into the living room, where there was a “cradle for a baby” and a television and a VCR with three VCRs nearby.

Freeman took three tapes from the house, then went to Wal-Mart and bought blank tapes and a video recorder, he said.

One tape was a Disney movie. Another was a kind of family video. The third was a tape of Kelly “with a young lady having sex,” Freeman said.

“How old did you think the woman was?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng asked.

“Young man,” he answered.

The video, according to prosecutors, depicts Kelly sexually abusing “Jane,” his 14-year-old goddaughter at his former home in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It’s different from the tape Kelly was criminally charged with in Cook County, although it involves the same alleged victim. Kelly was eventually acquitted in 2008 of the Cook County charges, in part because he convinced the victim not to cooperate, according to federal prosecutors.

Freeman “immediately” made three or four copies of the Georgia tape, he said, because he didn’t trust McDavid or Paladino to pay him. He still had copies of the tape in early 2019, he testified.

Freeman didn’t initially tell police about the child pornography “because the police weren’t going to pay me a million dollars,” he said. In early 2019, Freeman’s lawyer told him “the police were coming to get me because my name was released that I was in possession of child pornography for Robert Kelly.” Freeman gave the tapes to his attorney, who turned them over to law enforcement, he said.

Freeman gave a copy of the tape to McDavid and Paladino, who had him take a polygraph test on it. Later, Palladino called and said they knew he had another tape and arranged another meeting to turn it in and get paid.

Freeman handed over the tape and received a bag of cash in return. It wasn’t the full million, but he was told it would be paid in installments — every two years “until Rob goes to court,” Freeman said. Freeman made extensive efforts over the years to get the full amount he was owed, he said, including filing two lawsuits, he testified.

In late 2003 or early 2004, McDavid contacted Freeman again to get a different tape, Freeman said.

“Derrel said it’s another performance tape, the sex tape is what he described,” Freeman said. “With Lisa Van Allen, Robert and the young lady on tape.”

Prosecutors described a similar video as Video 4 of the indictment, which prosecutors said they never discovered and cannot play for a jury.

Freeman then contacted his friend Keith Murrell and discovered that Murrell had made a side deal with Kelly’s team regarding that tape, he said. Freeman copied some of the video to a cell phone, but did not recover the VHS, he testified.

Freeman believed he was owed the balance of his payment right before Kelly’s trial, he testified. In late 2007 or early 2008 he met alone with Kelly at the singer’s Olympia Fields mansion to talk about the tape he took in Georgia, he testified. The conversation took place in an ice cream shop, next to the huge house’s “rainforest” indoor pool.

“(Kelly) said she wanted to make sure I wasn’t working with the police or anything,” Freeman said.

While at the Olympia Fields home, he also spoke with McDavid alone at Kelly’s pool, he said. McDavid initially said he wanted them both to undress and get into the pool so he could be sure Freeman wasn’t wearing a wire, Freeman said. Both men stripped, but left their underwear on, Freeman said.

And after McDavid jumped in the water, he assured Freeman that he would get the rest of the money shortly before the trial.

But by the time of Kelly’s trial in 2008, Freeman still hadn’t been paid in full, he said, so he began calling reporters to announce a press conference “because I had big information about this case,” he said.

The next day, Freeman said, he got a call from Brown, who picked him up in his car and handed him a phone. Kelly was on the line.

“(Kelly) said ‘I know you’re not going to hold a press conference and do that to me after I gave you my word that I’m going to pay you,'” Freeman said.

Kelly promised him the money but said it was difficult to “make moves” during the trial, Freeman said. Brown gave him $10,000 as a show of good faith, and Freeman ultimately did not complete the news conference, he said.

Earlier Tuesday, two polygraph test administrators testified that they were hired to ask someone if they had made copies of a certain videotape. It was never made clear to the jury whether this man was actually Freeman.

Lawrence Birkland said he was hired by a lawyer in August 2001 to test someone about whether he had made copies of a particular videotape and whether it was the only videotape he had. Berkland gave the unidentified man three tests and he passed all three, he said.

On Tuesday morning, polygraph operator John Hurlock testified remotely from Missouri that he was also hired that same month to test someone about whether he had other copies of a certain film. The examinee also refused to give Hurlock his name or signature, telling him to “call him ‘Showtime.'”

Herlock did not recall taking the subject polygraph test.

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