Valdosta man sentenced in case related to R. Kelly

U.S. Department of Justice photoThis photograph of a damaged SUV was entered into evidence in a federal trial of a Valdosta man accused of burning a vehicle belonging to a witness in a trial against rap star R. Kelly. 

VALDOSTA — A Lowndes County man was sentenced to federal prison Wednesday for setting fire to a vehicle belonging to a witness in a racketeering case against R&B/hip-hop singer R. Kelly, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Michael Williams, 38, was sentenced in a Brooklyn, New York courtroom to eight years in prison, the justice department said in a statement. Williams pleaded guilty in April, said John Marzulli, a justice department spokesman.

On June 20, 2019, a grand jury in New York indicted Robert Sylvester Kelly, a.k.a. R. Kelly, on racketeering charges involving the Mann Act, a federal law which forbids taking women and girls across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”

Court papers showed Kelly and others were investigated for extortion, production of child pornography and crossing state lines for sex with underage persons.

Some of the charges involved a woman identified in court papers only as “Jane Doe,” who was cooperating with federal authorities.

The complaint against Williams stated that on June 11, 2020, an SUV rented by Jane Doe’s father and parked outside the family home in Kissimmee, Florida, was set on fire. There were four adults and two children inside the home at the time.

A federal court ordered Google to research users who had done online searches of the home’s address close to the time of the fire; this led to a phone owned by Williams, according to the complaint.

Records from Verizon, ordered by the court, showed the phone had been taken from Valdosta to the area of Kissimmee and back from June 10-11.

Law enforcement conducting surveillance on Williams’ Valdosta home noted a White GMC Yukon with no front license plate with visible damage, the complaint said. Florida Department of Transportation photographs found a matching Yukon on Florida roads about 60 miles from the site of the SUV fire on June 11.

A court-authorized search of related Google accounts turned up searches such as “where can i buy a .50 custom machine gun,” “can you drive in Florida without a tag as long as you have insurance on your car,” “case law for tampering with a witness” and “How Do Fertilizer Bombs Work?” the federal complaint said.

Kelly was convicted in September.

“Jane Doe” was not in the courtroom during the sentencing Wednesday, the justice department said, but prosecutors read a statement by her in court: “It is very unfortunate to see a man lose his freedom, however, the crime that was committed was not only vicious but disturbing. My mental state deteriorated tremendously due to fear, invasion of privacy, and trauma among many other things. Because of your actions, I live in fear and have had to relocate my entire life. In that home were not only adults but animals and children under the age of 10. My family is traumatized and has been in distress due to this unlawful act. I hope this life-changing event gives you time to reflect on your actions.”

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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