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R. Kelly's Former Manager Charged With Gun Threat To 'Surviving R. Kelly' Screening

Journalist Gretchen Carlson addresses the crowd before the planned screening of <em>Surviving R. Kelly</em> in New York on Dec. 4, 2018. The room was evacuated after a gun threat was called in.
Chance Yeh
Getty Images for A&E
Journalist Gretchen Carlson addresses the crowd before the planned screening of Surviving R. Kelly in New York on Dec. 4, 2018. The room was evacuated after a gun threat was called in.

On Friday, federal prosecutors charged former R. Kelly manager Donnell Russell with calling in a gun threat to a New York advance screening of the Lifetime television docuseries Surviving R. Kelly in December 2018.

The six-part series explored allegations that the fallen R&B star has sexually abused women and girls going back to the 1990s. The disrupted advance screening at New York's NeueHouse theater was scheduled to include a panel discussion featuring several of Kelly's accusers and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, among others.

After the threat was called in, the screening was canceled and the theater was evacuated.

Russell, who was Kelly's manager at the time of the incident, is being charged with two counts of threatening physical harm by interstate communication and conspiracy to do the same. Friday's charges were filed by prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the New York office of the FBI.

According to the prosecutors, Russell was in Chicago at the time of the screening. They say that on the day of the event, he worked with another individual, called "CC-1" in the court filing, to draft messages to a Lifetime executive that discouraged the network from airing the series. Prosecutors say that Russell also sent NeueHouse a purported "cease and desist" letter to stop the screening; called the New York Police Department and the fire department in an attempt to disrupt the screening; and finally contacted a NeueHouse employee by phone to say that there was a person in the theater with a gun who was prepared to shoot up the room.

These charges are separate from federal charges filed Wednesday by the Eastern District of New York against Russell and two other Kelly associates, in which the men are accused of separate schemes to harass, threaten, intimidate and bribe several of Kelly's alleged victims.

The gun threat to the Surviving R. Kelly screening was mentioned in Wednesday's charges from the Eastern District, but it was the Southern District and the FBI that have levied charges related to that incident.

On Thursday afternoon, Eastern District Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo approved a $75,000 bail package for Russell. He made his first appearance in front of a Southern District judge on Friday.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.