R. Kelly moved to New York, hires new lawyer as racketeering trial nears

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After two years in a federal jail in Chicago, indicted singer R. Kelly has been brought to New York in preparation for his racketeering trial that’s scheduled to begin in Brooklyn later this summer.

U.S. Bureau of Prisons records show Kelly is currently housed at a medium-security detention center in Brooklyn. The move comes six days after the judge overseeing his trial said she wanted Kelly brought there so he could decided in person whether to waive potential conflicts of interest with an attorney on his legal team.

Court records also show that Kelly also has added a new lawyer to that defense team, one who has made a name for himself in New York defending controversial celebrity cases.

Devereaux Cannick, a former Bronx County district attorney, officially signed on to the case on Monday, records show. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Among the high-profile cases Cannick has tried was the 2019 trial of a man accused of kidnapping rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. In his opening statement in that case, Cannick compared the rapper to another Chicago-area celebrity, saying Tekashi 6ix9ine had faked his own abduction in the same way “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett allegedly staged a bogus racial attack on himself.

“This was a hoax,” Cannick told jurors, according to news reports at the time. “It’s a Jussie Smollett, if you will.”

Cannick’s client was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Kelly, 54, was indicted in 2019 on racketeering charges alleging he ran a criminal enterprise that recruited women and underage girls for illegal sexual contact, then isolated and threatened them to keep them under control. Jury questionnaires are set to go out to a pool of hundreds of potential jurors next month.

He also faces trial in Chicago on federal charges related to alleged sex abuse of minors, as well as separate indictments brought in Cook County.

Kelly’s two Chicago-based attorneys abruptly filed a motion to withdraw from the case earlier this month,

Last week, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly held an unusual hearing investigating potential conflicts with Kelly’s attorney, Nicole Blank Becker of Michigan. Kelly has said he’s opted to go with Becker and another member of the legal team, Thomas Farinella of New York, but the judge said she won’t sign off on the change until she has a chance to ask Kelly face-to-face.

“When I do this questioning, I want to do it in person because that way at least he’ll be able to consult with lawyers without going out of the room and all of that,” Donnelly said at the hearing on Thursday, according to a transcript.

The Tribune has reported that Becker’s potential conflicts involve in part an investigation into Richard Arline Jr., a self-described cousin of Kelly’s who was charged last year with attempting to pay up to $500,000 to an alleged victim in the racketeering case to keep her from testifying.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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