An associate of R. Kelly's was sentenced to eight years in federal prison on Wednesday for setting a car on fire in an attempt to frighten one of the singer’s victims out of testifying against him.
Michael Williams, 38, pleaded guilty in April to arson for setting a car on fire outside the woman’s home before she was set to testify in Kelly’s racketeering trial. But even though Williams was successful in torching the vehicle, he did not manage to scare her into silence; her testimony in Brooklyn federal court in August — during which she described in disturbing detail the sexual abuse that Kelly subjected to her starting when she was 17 — was essential in finding the R&B singer guilty on all counts.
Williams, a relative of a former publicist for Kelly, was one of three men arrested in August 2020 for a variety of schemes intended to threaten, bribe, and intimidate the singer's victims out of cooperating with federal prosecutors. One of these men later testified at the trial, revealing that Kelly had sexually abused him, too, starting when he was 17.
In June 2020, Williams drove more than 200 miles from Valdosta, Georgia, to Kissimmee, Florida, where the woman, identified in court by the pseudonym “Jane,” was living. Outside the residence just before 3 a.m., he poured gasoline on a car belonging to Jane’s father and set it ablaze. Someone who was in the home ran out upon hearing an “explosion” and saw “an individual fleeing from the scene of the fire, whose arm appeared to be lit on fire,” court documents state. Fire investigators also found an accelerant in the area around the home.
Williams was pinpointed as the likely culprit soon after, when a search warrant was authorized to Google to determine who had searched for the woman’s address shortly before the attack. That led law enforcement officials to his Google account; he had recently searched for Jane’s address, information on fertilizer bombs, news about R. Kelly, “case law for tampering with a witness,” and “where can i buy a .50 custom machine gun.”
Following Williams’ sentencing, Assistant US Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez read a statement from Jane in the courtroom.
“It is very unfortunate to see a man lose his freedom, however, the crime that was committed was not only vicious but disturbing,” Jane said in the statement. “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.”
Her statement continued, “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.”
The arson attack was not the first time Jane or her family had faced threats from Kelly’s entourage. Previously, Williams' relative who had worked as Kelly’s publicist told Jane’s father in a text message, “it might be wise for you to protect your daughter from heartache she’s gonna endure through this and after.”
Threats of this kind were one of the main tools Kelly used to keep his victims scared into silence, according to multiple people’s testimony during his federal trial.
Sonja, a former radio intern — who testified that she was locked in a recording studio room for days and deprived of food and water before being drugged and sexually assaulted by Kelly — said employees copied down information on her family and friends from her phone, made her sign two NDAs, and told her “don’t fuck with Mr. Kelly” before she was allowed to leave.
Faith, who appeared in the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, testified that she was contacted by one of Kelly’s employees, who showed her a file of nude photos Kelly had taken of her and threatened they would be leaked if she went forward with the interview. About a week after the docuseries began airing, those same photos were published on a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies.”
At times, even members of Kelly’s inner circle were threatened to ensure their loyalty. A former talent manager who later became an assistant to R. Kelly testified that the singer had threatened her over a teenage singer’s sexual harassment lawsuit, saying she needed to “pick a team” because “generally in these situations, people come up missing.”