R. Kelly’s former manager is facing another set of criminal charges, after federal prosecutors accused him on Friday of calling in a threat to a New York City theater to stop a screening of a docuseries that included allegations the singer sexually abused minor girls and adult women.
Prosecutors with the US attorney’s office in Manhattan allege that Donnell Russell called the NeueHouse Madison Square theater in December 2018 and claimed there was an armed person at the theater who was prepared to begin shooting as a screening of “Surviving R. Kelly” was about to begin.
Russell, who was in Chicago at the time, also allegedly made at least six phone calls to two New York Police Department precincts, the Fire Department of New York headquarters and a historical organization affiliated with the fire department located near the theater, in what authorities allege was an apparent attempt to disrupt the screening, according to an FBI affidavit. Prosecutors allege Russell made the threat after his attempts to block the screening through a cease-and-desist letter fell flat.
Russell, 45, was charged with one count of threatening physical harm by interstate communication and one count of conspiracy to threaten physical harm by interstate communication. He made an initial appearance in federal court Friday, where a judge ordered him to be released on a $75,000 bail with conditions that prohibit him from contacting any co-conspirators or co-defendants, witnesses or victims and their families in the case, according to court records.
Russell is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on these charges on September 14, according to court records. CNN has reached out to an attorney representing Russell for comment.
“Surviving R. Kelly” is a six-hour docuseries broadcast on Lifetime over three nights beginning January 3, 2019. The series drew 26 million viewers and renewed interest in allegations of sexual misconduct by the singer.
The charges are the second this week against Russell. On Wednesday, prosecutors announced that Russell was charged by the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn for allegedly having “threatened to reveal sexually explicit photographs” of alleged victim Jane Doe and “to publicly reveal her sexual history if she did not withdraw her lawsuit against Kelly.” Russell did not make a court appearance on those charges.
Russell is the singer’s former manager. Kelly is facing federal charges of racketeering and sex trafficking in New York and is being held without bond in Chicago federal prison awaiting trial, where he also faces charges. He has denied all the allegations.
Steve Greenberg, an attorney for Kelly, denied that Kelly had any involvement or knowledge of the threats Russell allegedly made.
“These people are fans of R. Kelly and if they decide to do something because in their judgment they think it would help, it doesn’t mean that R. Kelly asked them, encouraged them or even knew they were doing it,” Greenberg told CNN. “I’m concerned that (the prosecutors) are using unreasonable leverage to get people to talk to them.”
CNN reported in December 2018 that a theater screening of “Surviving R. Kelly” was evacuated after an unknown caller to the theater said that if the film continued to play, someone inside the theater would start shooting, according to a New York police spokesperson.
The threats were noncredible, a spokesperson for NeueHouse Madison Square said shortly after the evacuation. The series’ executive producer, Dream Hampton, said in a statement to CNN at the time that the threat was an attempt to intimidate and silence Kelly’s accusers.
“Calling in a noncredible threat to the NYPD to interrupt our screening is an act of desperation from people who don’t want these truths shared with the world,” Hampton said in an email. CNN has reached out to Hampton in light of the charges against Russell.
Investigators have been looking into Russell’s alleged connection to the phone threats surrounding the docuseries screening since January 2019, according to the FBI affidavit unsealed Friday.
In an interview with the FBI in August 2019, Russell said he sent the cease-and-desist letter to the theater but denied making the threatening call, according to the affidavit.
In the affidavit, the FBI alleged that a search of Russell’s iCloud account revealed a recording of another individual associated with Kelly that stated, “Don [Russell] got identified as the person who called in the f**king gun threat which was stupid as f**k and Rob didn’t know sh*t about it … they said the NYPD traced it back to him.”
The affidavit also alleges that later on the evening of the alleged threat against the New York theater, Russell’s mother texted her son, telling him, “Be humble when (if) you talk to Rob because you made another move without checking with him first. Even though, it was for his benefit, he might not approve of your actions!!!”
Prosecutors allege that Rob is a reference to R. Kelly, whose first name is Robert.
Kelly’s New York trial is scheduled to begin in September, but may be delayed due to coronavirus concerns. A status conference for the case is set for Wednesday, according to court records.