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Chicago goes to court seeking access to singer R. Kelly's studio featured in documentary

Jason Meisner and Morgan Greene, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- Embattled R&B singer R. Kelly could be on the hook for building code violations at his Chicago recording studio after the city went to court Thursday seeking access to the property featured on the documentary series "Surviving R. Kelly."

A five-page emergency motion filed by the city's Law Department alleged someone improperly converted the Near West Side space at 219 N. Justine St. into a studio and built out a kitchen without obtaining permits for the work. The motion cites the building's owner, Midwest Funding LLC, as well as "tenants and occupants," believed to be Kelly and his entourage.

The action was sparked by an anonymous call to the city's 311 line on Wednesday claiming that people were living in the two-story brick building, which is zoned for commercial use, according to city attorney Kimberly Roberts. A building inspector went to the property but was unable to gain entry, prompting the city to go to court.

"The property is zoned for commercial purposes only, so there shouldn't be anyone living there or having any kind of parties there," Roberts said. "So because of the issue of public safety, we need to get inside and assess what's going on."

The city action is solely to try to gain access to the building for an inspection -- not for anything related to any criminal case, said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the Law Department.

The owner could be fined up to $1,000 per day per violation -- costs that could be passed on to Kelly if he was in violation of the terms of his lease, according to the city.

During a brief hearing Thursday at the Daley Center, lawyers for the owner as well as Kelly asked Cook County Judge Patrice Ball-Reed for a one-day continuance. The judge agreed, rescheduling the case for Friday.

Melvin Simms, an attorney who represents Kelly on the real estate matter, declined to comment after court.

In a separate suit, the building's owner, Midwest Commercial Funding LLC, is trying to evict Kelly for failing to pay rent, court records show. Earlier this week, the Cook County judge overseeing that case ordered Kelly to pay Midwest almost $167,000, according to the records. The judge also allowed the owner to take possession on the property but appeared to put a temporary hold on that order, the records show.

A lawyer representing Midwest did not return a call seeking comment.

The building issue is just the latest fallout for Kelly since the series "Surviving R. Kelly" began airing last week on the Lifetime TV channel, bringing decades of abuse allegations against the "Pied Piper of R&B" to almost 20 million viewers.

Earlier this week, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx pleaded with potential victims to come forward so she could investigate claims of criminal wrongdoing.

The state's attorney's call to action followed reports that Kelly is under criminal investigation in Georgia. A representative of the Fulton County district attorney's office said the office has no comment. But a spokesman for Gerald Griggs, a lawyer representing parents of a girl who say Kelly has kept her from contacting them since 2016, confirmed the district attorney's office reached out to them seeking information about witnesses.

The latest revelations are playing out 17 years after Cook County prosecutors indicted Kelly on child pornography charges for allegedly filming himself having sex with a girl estimated to be as young as 13. That legal saga played out over six years before a jury acquitted him of all charges in 2008.

Kelly has consistently denied any wrongdoing. This week, his attorney, Steve Greenberg, blasted Foxx for seeking out purported victims, likening it to a stunt by a "late-night personal injury attorney."

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"Nobody has come forward and said they were the victim of any misconduct by Mr. Kelly because nobody has been," Greenberg said.

The Near West Side studio that has drawn the city's interest is currently listed for sale at just under $4 million.

The real estate listing by Berkshire Hathaway states the 8,000-square-foot property is "fully rented" with a "high profile tenant" paying nearly $23,000 a month. The tenant, who isn't identified, currently has eight years left on a 10-year lease, with rent increasing at 5 percent per year, according to the listing.

The first floor has a "fully built out recording studio, lounge and full kitchen," the listing stated.

Photos show the kitchen along one wall, with pots and pans hanging from a rack, as well as two dining room tables with chairs.

On Wednesday evening, a crowd of #MuteRKelly protesters gathered outside the embattled artist's studio in the Fulton Market district. The grassroots effort seeks to cancel Kelly's concerts, get his music off the air and hold him accountable for the allegations of abuse.

For about an hour, dozens of women protesters endured freezing temperatures and erupted in cheers of "All the girls, we love you!" and "Black girls matter!" as speakers demanded Kelly be dropped from his record label and collaborators stop working with him.

Glenda Bridges, 55, of Chicago's Austin neighborhood, said she came to the protest with her daughter. They watched the Lifetime documentary series together.

The series features interviews with numerous witnesses and victims who claimed that the studio space doubled as a base for Kelly's alleged sex cult.

"I have been a longtime R. Kelly fan," Bridges said. "Until I saw the series and saw the survivors and realized he needs to be stopped."

(c)2019 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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