R&B singer R. Kelly’s legal team got a shot in the arm Friday as a high-profile attorney who won an appeal of Bill Cosby’s sex abuse case has signed on to challenge Kelly’s racketeering conviction in New York.
Jennifer Bonjean, a New York-based attorney whose legal career began in Chicago, filed her appearance in Kelly’s case in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, where Kelly was convicted last month of racketeering and sex abuse charges.
Bonjean told the Tribune she will spearhead Kelly’s post-conviction motions and, should U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly deny Kelly a new trial, work on an appeal before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The post-trial motions are due on Monday, but Bonjean has asked for a two-month extension.
Bonjean was the driving force behind Cosby’s appeal of his sex crimes conviction in Pennsylvania and wound up winning the actor’s stunning release from prison. She said she’s “looking forward to getting familiar with the record” in Kelly’s case, which was anchored by Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act charges that she called a “kitchen sink approach.”
“I am becoming increasingly concerned with how the government is abusing the RICO statute in order to plead around the statute of limitations and essentially put people’s entire lives on trial,” Bonjean said. “It’s becoming a formula for the government. You have a right to defend yourself against specific allegations.”
Bonjean said she saw similar government overreach in another high-profile case she’s handling: NXIVM sex-cult leader Keith Raniere, who was convicted under the RICO statute in the same courthouse as Kelly.
Kelly, 54, was convicted on Sept. 27 of racketeering conspiracy charges alleging he used his music career to further a criminal enterprise. The jury found him guilty of 12 individual illegal acts, including sex with multiple underage girls as well as a 1994 scheme to bribe an Illinois public aid official to get a phony ID for 15-year-old singer Aaliyah so the two could get married.
Kelly, who is currently being held at the federal lockup in Brooklyn, faces 10 years to life in prison when he’s sentenced in May. The other members of his legal team, Deveraux Cannick, Thomas Farinella, and Nicole Blank Becker, will continue to work on sentencing issues, Bonjean said.
The singer is also charged in U.S. District Court in Chicago with running a yearslong scheme to buy back sex tapes he allegedly made with underage girls and to bribe or coerce witnesses in his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County, which ended in acquittal. U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber has set trial for August in that case.
At a hearing earlier this month, Kelly’s Chicago-based attorney, Steven Greenberg, said Kelly was in the process of revamping his legal team in the New York case, which underwent a dramatic shake-up in the weeks leading up to trial. Greenberg and Bonjean have worked together closely on several cases in Chicago and elsewhere.
Greenberg and his co-counsel, Michael Leonard, are also representing Kelly on indictments filed in Cook County in February 2019 alleging the sexual abuse of four victims, three of whom were underage at the time.
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