R Kelly’s former tour manager bribed a government official to get the then-15-year-old singer Aaliyah a fake ID card so Kelly could secretly marry her “to protect him and Aaliyah”, a court has heard.
Demetrius Smith told a jury at Kelly‘s sex-trafficking trial that he went into a welfare office in Chicago in 1994 and asked an employee who was taking ID photos if they “want to make some money” before handing over $500.
He said he was confident the bribe would work because “everybody needs some money”, he added.
The welfare card was one of two fake IDs used to allow the R&B artist to marry Aaliyah after he began a sexual relationship with her and believed she was pregnant.
A marriage licence listed Aaliyah as 18, while Kelly was 27 at the time.
Prosecutors say that Kelly wanted to use the marriage – later annulled by Aaliyah’s parents – to protect himself from criminal charges relating to having sex with a minor and prevent the singer from testifying against him.
Aaliyah and Kelly worked together at the start of her career and Kelly produced and wrote her debut single, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, in 1994.
She later died in a plane crash aged 22 in 2001.
Kelly, 54, is charged in the bribery scheme as part of a racketeering case accusing him of sexually abusing several women, girls and boys during the course of his 30-year career.
He has continued to deny the charges, saying that his accusers were groupies who wanted to take advantage of his fame and fortune achieved through hits like I Believe I Can Fly.
Mr Smith, who was forced to testify against his will after being given immunity from future charges, repeatedly told the judge he was uneasy about taking the stand, but did not give a specific reason.
However, after further questioning from the judge, he revealed how Kelly came to him during a 1994 tour and told him Aaliyah was “in trouble” and that he needed to get home.
Mr Smith said they rushed back to Chicago after a concert in another city so they could arrange the marriage meant “to protect him and Aaliyah”.
He said he told Kelly: “‘I know how to get her an ID’, and that’s what I did.”
Earlier on Friday, Anthony Navarro, another former Kelly employee, was called by the government to describe the inner workings of the Chicago-area mansion where Kelly had a recording studio and regular female visitors.
Mr Navarro said being at the mansion “was almost like the Twilight Zone“, adding that “it’s just a strange place”.
His testimony appeared to bolster the government’s claims that Kelly created an environment where women and girls faced strict rules that gave them little choice but to submit to the singer’s sexual desires.
Mr Navarro told the jury that he never witnessed Kelly sexually abuse his alleged victims but there were “girls” who would stay at his home for long stretches and could not eat or leave without the singer’s permission.
He said there were times when they wanted to leave but “couldn’t because they couldn’t get a ride or we couldn’t get ahold of Rob” to get approval.
Mr Navarro, a trained audio engineer, said he spent most of his time driving visitors to and from Kelly’s home.
He said: “Mainly it was girls who were coming to the studio.”
The trial continues.