Ex-R. Kelly Aide Says Job Was ‘Almost Like the Twilight Zone’
Anthony Navarro has worked for other music superstars: Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Jay-Z. But Mr. Navarro said on Friday that working for the …
Anthony Navarro has worked for other music superstars: Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Jay-Z. But Mr. Navarro said on Friday that working for the singer R. Kelly was markedly different.
“It was almost like the Twilight Zone,” Mr. Navarro told jurors during the third day of Mr. Kelly’s criminal trial. “You went into the gate and it was a different world.”
Mr. Navarro’s testimony came at the end of the opening week of Mr. Kelly’s long-awaited criminal trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. The singer faces one racketeering count and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting people across state lines for the purpose of prostitution.
Mr. Kelly, 54, has steadfastly denied the accusations.
In his role as Mr. Kelly’s assistant, Mr. Navarro said he was often responsible for errands that seemed highly personal — driving the entertainer’s girlfriends around and picking up his medication. It was unusual, he testified, compared with his later experiences in the music industry and a “hard time” for him.
“The things that you had to do was just a bit uncomfortable,” Mr. Navarro, who was in his early 20s when he worked for Mr. Kelly, told the jury. “The music and production stuff was really good. All the other stuff was kind of strange.”
Mr. Kelly’s sexual conduct is the public focus of his trial. Jurors have already heard accounts from one of his accusers, a woman who said Mr. Kelly began a sexual relationship with her when she was 16. Mr. Kelly’s longtime doctor offered testimony that bolstered the government’s accusation that the singer knowingly infected some of his accusers with herpes.
But the actions of those in Mr. Kelly’s inner circle — managers, bodyguards, drivers and members of his entourage, among others — will be central to the case for both sides, as prosecutors try to convince jurors that he was the ringleader of a decades-long, criminal scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex.
Mr. Navarro, who said he began working for Mr. Kelly in summer 2007, was the first of Mr. Kelly’s former employees to testify. He was interested in pursuing a career in music, he said, and took a job at the entertainer’s home studio, The Chocolate Factory.
He told jurors that he drove visitors, often female guests who were coming to the studio, to the airport and throughout the Chicago area.
“I wasn’t supposed to be talking to any of the girls — the guests — who were coming into the house,” Mr. Navarro recalled.
He said that at one point in the roughly two and a half years that he worked for Mr. Kelly, he was asked to drive a young woman, one of the singer’s girlfriends, from Alabama to Atlanta.
Mr. Navarro said he had been prohibited from speaking with her and other women he drove around.
“That’s one of Rob’s Rules for us,” he said.
Mr. Navarro’s testimony provided the first glimpse of how prosecutors hope to convince jurors that the people in Mr. Kelly’s orbit, who often had roles in music production or on his tours, actively aided the criminal enterprise Mr. Kelly is accused of building to prey on women and girls.
Mr. Navarro recalled how some of Mr. Kelly’s employees would pass written notes to fans at concerts, inviting them backstage, or at malls and restaurants, encouraging them to contact the entertainer.
Mr. Kelly’s lawyers tried to portray what Mr. Navarro described as typical in the music industry, and they suggested that the tight security, house rules and general operations would be routine for a star of Mr. Kelly’s magnitude given his work and living environment.
As Mr. Navarro recounted the restrictions that female guests in Mr. Kelly’s home faced, one of the singer’s lawyers, Nicole Blank Becker, asked whether they could leave if they wanted. Mr. Navarro said they could.
During her opening statement this week, Ms. Blank Becker told the jury that the racketeering charge against the singer was misguided.
A group of employees working for a recording artist in support of his music, she said, were far different from the organized crime figures the charge is often used to prosecute.
“The evidence will show that this is uncharted territory,” Ms. Blank Becker said. “The details in this case are going to make you think, ‘Was there something else? Did I miss something?’”