R. Kelly's Manager Convicted of Phoning in Threat to Theater

Donnell Russell was accused of attempting to protect singer with unusual strategy
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 21, 2022 12:57 PM CDT
Updated Jul 22, 2022 5:10 PM CDT
R. Kelly Manager on Trial Over Alleged Bomb Threat
R. Kelly's manager Donnell Russell, second from left, leaves federal court, Wednesday, in New York.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Update: Donnell Russell, the manager of convicted singer R. Kelly, was found guilty Friday of making a threat by phone to prevent the showing of a film about his client. A jury convicted Russell of threatening physical harm through interstate communication, the AP reports. He was cleared on a conspiracy count. Our original story from Wednesday follows:

The trial of R. Kelly's manager opened Tuesday on charges that he forced the cancellation of a screening of a documentary about the singer's sexual abuse of women and girls by calling in a threat to the crowded Manhattan theater. Assistant US Attorney Lara Pomerantz told jurors that Donnell Russell made a brief phone call in December 2018 from his Chicago home to the theater, claiming that someone with a gun was planning to fire on the crowd watching Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly series. "He knew his words would sabotage the event," she said, per the AP. The phone call prompted an emergency call to police, who ordered an evacuation that forced the cancellation of the premiere, including a live panel discussion that was to include several of Kelly’s accusers.

"The defendant wanted to keep the women quiet," Pomerantz said in Manhattan federal court. She added that Russell was motivated by a desire to protect the lucrative career of the songwriter, who was last month sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering and sex trafficking. Defense attorney Michael Freedman told jurors that there was not enough evidence to prove Russell committed a crime. He said there was no recording of the phone threat so jurors cannot hear the voice that made it. Adrian Krasniqi, who worked at the venue, testified that he received the threatening call less than an hour after a man claiming to be part of Kelly's legal team called and said the documentary was violating Kelly's copyright to his name. He said the first caller had a low, professional-sounding voice.

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Krasniqi said the later call consisted of a deep-voiced man with a "slang tone, like a thug," saying in a very serious and very blunt manner that "someone had a gun and they were going to shoot up the place." On cross examination, Krasniqi 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 outdoors when he made the threat. Pomerantz said Russell demonstrated his guilt in part through his communications with a female co-conspirator who was at the theater at the time. She said Russell sent the woman a text to say the police may be coming to the theater shortly before they did. And he later asked her to delete the text, although she never did, the prosecutor said. (More R. Kelly stories.)

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