NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Opening arguments began Wednesday in the federal trial against singer R. Kelly.
Kelly is accused of sexually exploiting minors, bribery, forced labor and infecting women with sexually transmitted disease without their knowledge.READ MORE: Jury Selection Begins For R. Kelly Sex Trafficking Trial In Brooklyn
CBS2’s Jessica Moore was in the courtroom as both sides presented their opening arguments.
The prosecution says Kelly spent decades using his fame to groom young women and girls for his sexual gratification, and then abused and infected them with herpes. The defense says the government is trying to paint Kelly as mob boss John Gotti, and turn consensual relationships into crimes.
The 54-year-old, whose formal name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was known internationally for his upbeat music and inspirational anthems. But his accusers say behind the lyrics was a dark side.
As Kelly rose to fame in the 90s, prosecutors say he was also building a massive crime enterprise, targeting and grooming young boys and girls for his sexual gratification.
Among the crowds of people arriving at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn Wednesday morning was the mother of one of the R&B star’s alleged victims, Joycelyn Savage.
“It’s important to be here on the first day, because we’ve been on this journey for so long, over five years,” she said.
Prosecutors claim the Grammy winner used bodyguards and other employees to run a criminal enterprise, involving the sex trafficking of women and underage girls.READ MORE: R. Kelly Pleads Not Guilty In NYC Court To Sex Abuse Charges
Once they were involved, Kelly is accused of imposing rules on the girls, making them call him “daddy,” locking them in rooms for hours at a time, and handing out punishments, which he called “chastisements,” if they crossed him.
“Being on punishment could be, either you’re not getting food, or you took a beating,” said Kitti Jones in the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.
Defense attorneys argue the six Jane Doe victims named in the indictment all pursued Kelly, and knew what they were signing up for when they got involved with him.
Kelly’s defense told jurors the victims are vindictive, spiteful copycats of each other’s narratives who, when their relationships with the singer soured, sought revenge and tried to profit off their experience.
“You’ve got alleged minor victims, some which I think you’re going to find out lied about their age, their families lied about their age, and they really tried to capitalize on R. Kelly and extort him for money. And then you’ve got other things which they’ve alleged, like, he wanted people to call him ‘Daddy.’ Now, how is that any different from me saying, I want to be called honey or sweetheart? Maybe it’s a different word, but it’s still the same concept.” Kelly’s former attorney Steve Greenberg said in an interview on CBS This Morning.
Kelly is also accused of recording the illegal sex with minors and threatening to release the tapes if the women tried to leave. Prosecutors say he also psychologically abused his victims: alienating them from their families, berating them and forcing them to urinate in cups or buckets.
“Well, mental abuse isn’t a crime. That’s absolutely correct. So what’s happened here is we’ve got the Me Too movement. And so we look at something and we say, ‘Well, this was abuse.’ But is it against the law? That’s really what you have to do. And that’s what they have to do an opening,” Greenberg said.
The trial is expected to last one month. We’re expected to hear from many of the six women named in the indictment, as well as former associates of Kelly who are accused of helping him carry out this enterprise.
If convicted, Kelly faces 10 years to life.MORE NEWS: Timeline Of R. Kelly’s Life And Career
Kelly also faces separate sex trafficking charges in Chicago and Minneapolis.