NEW YORK (AP/FOX 5 NY) - A man suspected of setting fire to a vehicle and two other men are facing federal charges in connection with threatening and intimidating women who have accused R&B singer R. Kelly of abuse.
The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn on Wednesday announced the charges against the three men, who all have ties to the indicted singer. A longtime friend of Kelly's offered to pay a victim half a million dollars to keep her from cooperating in the prosecution, the feds said. A Kelly adviser threatened to divulge sexually explicit photographs of a woman who has sued Kelly, authorities said. A third man is accused of going to Florida earlier this summer and torching an SUV parked outside a home where one of Kelly's accusers was staying.
Acting United States Attorney Seth DuCharme said the men worked to "undermine and subvert the integrity of the criminal justice system and victimize the women who have come forward with serious allegations" against Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly.
"Efforts to illegally influence pending federal cases, whether through threats of violence, intimidation, damage to property, or payments to buy a potential witness's silence, will not be tolerated," DuCharme said in a statement.
Kelly, a Grammy-award winning musician who remains relatively popular with his fanbase, has repeatedly denied ever abusing anyone and has pleaded not guilty to dozens of state and federal sexual misconduct charges in Illinois, Minnesota and New York.
The charges range from sexual assault to heading a racketeering scheme aimed at supplying Kelly with girls. Kelly also is accused of having unprotected sex with a girl in 2015 without disclosing he had herpes.
Federal authorities charged Michael Williams, 37, of Valdosta, Georgia, with setting fire to the SUV in Florida. He is related to someone who used to work for Kelly as a publicist, the U.S. attorney said.
The father of the woman staying at the Florida home gave federal agents screenshots of text messages he said he received from the former publicist. One screenshot, according to a criminal complaint, reads in part, "it might be wise for you to protect your daughter from heartache she's gonna endure through this and after. She had to live with every stain you guys create publicly."
Investigators discovered that Williams searched the internet for "the detonation properties of fertilizer and diesel fuel, witness intimidation and witness tampering and countries that do not have extradition with the United States," the feds said in a news release.
The U.S. attorney also charged two men from Illinois who are connected to Kelly.
Richard Arline Jr., 31, is accused of offering to pay off a woman he believed had "too much" incriminating information against Kelly, his longtime friend. Federal agents said a wiretap recorded a call in which Arline claimed he spoke to Kelly, who is behind bars, during a three-way call.
Donnell Russell, 45, of Chicago, is charged with harassing a Kelly victim and her mother after the unidentified woman filed a lawsuit against Kelly. Authorities said Russell, a manager and adviser to Kelly, sent a letter to the woman's lawyer with cropped nude photographs of her and later sent her a text warning her: "Pull the plug or you will be exposed."
Steve Greenberg, one of Kelly's lawyers, said his client had nothing to do with what these men are accused of doing.
"Without question, Robert Kelly had nothing to do with any of these alleged acts by those charged," Greenberg tweeted. "He hasn't attempted to intimidate anyone, or encouraged anyone else to do so."
The AP sent a message to Williams' attorney seeking comment. It was clear if Russell and Arline have attorneys yet who could comment on the charges.
In a statement, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea thanked police officers and federal agents for working this case and that what the men are accused of doing "can never be accepted."
"The bribery, intimidation and violence alleged in these complaints reflects a nationwide pattern of criminality that further victimized civilian witnesses in a federal case," Shea said.