R. Kelly brings in lawyer who specializes in plea negotiations

A veteran defense attorney who specializes in plea negotiations has quietly joined R. Kelly’s federal case in Chicago as the embattled singer faces a 13-count indictment alleging he sexually abused underage girls. 

Attorney Jeffrey Steinback, who filed an appearance in the case over the weekend, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday he was asked to lend his “expertise” on how to deal with the high-profile charges against Kelly, not necessarily to resolve the case short of trial.

“I was brought in as another set of eyes,” Steinback said in a telephone interview. He said he’s since met with the singer several times at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Loop — where Kelly has been held without bond since July — to get a sense of “who he is and how I may be of assistance.”

“I did not meet a monster,” Steinback said. “I met a man who is hurting. … He’s done a great deal of good in his life.”

Steinback’s emergence in the case is sure to raise eyebrows due to his reputation as a deal-maker whose experience and connections with the U.S. attorney’s office have helped him negotiate drastically reduced prison sentences for clients. 

Among the clients Steinback has represented over the years: Scott Fawell, the former aide to Gov. George Ryan who provided crucial testimony against his boss; Stuart Levine, a political insider who became one of the government’s key witnesses in the corruption investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich; and William Hanhardt, the Chicago police chief of detectives who pleaded guilty to running a mob-connected jewelry theft ring.

Any deal with prosecutors in Kelly’s case would be particularly thorny to execute since the R&B star is also facing a racketeering indictment in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn as well as separate charges brought in Cook County in February alleging the sexual abuse of four victims. 

If convicted in all three cases, Kelly, 52, could potentially face the rest of his life in prison.

Steinback had not filed an appearance either the New York or Cook County cases as of Monday.

Kelly’s lead attorney, Steven Greenberg, said Monday he was well aware of Steinback’s reputation as a plea-deal architect but indicated that no such deals were currently in the works.

“Perhaps at some point we will need Jeff’s particular expertise,” Greenberg told the Tribune. “At this point we are certainly not working towards or contemplating a plea in any of his cases, but I think that as part of having a complete team, it’s important to know what your risks are.”

Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was charged in the federal indictment in Chicago with conspiring with two former employees to rig his 2008 child pornography trial in Cook County by paying off witnesses and victims to change their stories. 

In New York, Kelly alone was indicted on a charge of racketeering conspiracy, alleging he identified underage girls attending his concerts and groomed them for later sexual abuse.

Kelly is also charged in four separate indictments in Cook County alleging he sexually assaulted one woman and sexually abused three minor girls. In addition, he faces prostitution charges in Minnesota for allegedly soliciting an underage girl nearly 20 years ago.

Kelly has repeatedly maintained his innocence throughout his mounting legal woes.

After the federal charges were filed in July, experts told the Tribune that any plea deal likely would have to involve settling his cases in all the jurisdictions that he faces charges — what’s known as a “global resolution.”

That could take several different forms; Kelly could agree to plead guilty in one or two cases in exchange for the others being dropped or plead to all of them in exchange for an agreed-upon sentence.

Coordinating a resolution between four prosecutors’ offices in three states could prove complicated. In the meantime, Judge Lawrence Flood, who is presiding over Kelly’s four Cook County cases, has said he expects to “proceed as if the other two matters are not pending.”

Kelly is expected back in county court in December. 

Meanwhile, he’s currently set for trial on the Chicago federal charges in April, although U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber has acknowledged the date may have to be delayed.

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