NEW YORK ( Associated Press) — The lawsuit for R. Kelly’s manager began Tuesday over allegations that he forced the cancellation of a screening of a documentary about the sexual abuse of women and girls by threatening an overcrowded Manhattan theater.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz told jurors that Donnell Russell made a terrifyingly brief phone call from his Chicago home to the theater in December 2018, claiming he was holding a gun to a crowd watching Lifetime’s “Surviving Are Kelly” series. Somebody was planning to shoot.
“He knew his words would sabotage the incident,” she said.
The phone call prompted the police to make an emergency call, which ordered an evacuation that forced the premiere to be cancelled, including a live panel discussion involving several women in the documentary.
“The defendant wanted to keep the women silent,” Pomerantz said in Manhattan federal court. He said Russell was motivated by a desire to defend the lucrative career of the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling songwriter.
Kelly, who was sentenced last month to 30 years in prison, was convicted last year of racketeering and sex trafficking.
Defense attorney Michael Friedman told jurors that they would acquit Russell if they studied the evidence.
Friedman said there were a lot of phone calls to the theater on the day of the screening and that jury members “have to decide what this means and what, if anything, it proves to be about my client.”
He said there was no recording of the phone threat, so jurors could not hear the voice that made it. But he said there was not enough evidence to prove Russell’s guilt.
Adrian Krasnicki, who worked at the 25th Street venue, testified that he received the threatening call less than an hour after he was called by a man claiming to be part of Kelly’s legal team, saying that the documentary was in his name. But Kelly’s copyright was infringing and should not be shown. He said the caller’s voice was a low, professional voice.
Krasniki said that the subsequent call involved a man with a deep voice, saying “like a thug, like a thug,” in a very serious and very blunt way that “somebody had a gun and they were in place.” were about to shoot.”
When cross-examined, Krasniki said he believed the caller had a Brooklyn accent, which he was familiar with because he lived in Brooklyn. He said he also thought the caller was outside when he made the threat.
Pomerantz said that Russell demonstrated his guilt through his communication with a female co-conspirator, who was in the theater at the time.
She said that Russell sent the woman a text to say that the police might come to the theater shortly before their arrival. And he later asked her to remove the text, though he never did, the prosecutor said.
Pomerantz said phone records to be offered as evidence would show that Russell had called the theater nine times on the day of the screening.
In a separate case related to Kelly, a fan of the artist pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday to a threat charge against prosecutors in Kelly’s sexual abuse trial. Court papers cite a video of defendant Christopher Gunn saying, “If Kelz goes down, everybody’s going down.”
A message was left with Gunn’s lawyer seeking comment.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this story.