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The Mann Act and the R. Kelly Racketeering Case

R. Kelly is currently in the news for the alleged abuse of young women. Various young women have come forward alleging abuse. R. Kelly has been alleged to also have abused the late singer Aaliyah, who R. Kelly married when she was 15. What is more surprising is that R. Kelly is also being charged with racketeering, including violations of the Mann Act. This is a charge most commonly associated with organized crime. Racketeering takes place over a period of time and it involves many associates. R. Kelly’s defense is claiming the charge of racketeering is inappropriate and will make it impossible to have a fair trial. A commenter, who is a former prosecutor, commended the charge as a bold and aggressive move that holds R. Kelly and his associates accountable for the coordinated abuse of young women.

What Is Racketeering?

Racketeering became a federal crime in 1970 under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). It is a federal crime that involves prosecuting a number of crimes that are carried out by an “enterprise” as part of an illegal interstate commercial operation. R. Kelly has been charged with one count of racketeering and 14 associated acts, including kidnapping, sex trafficking and forced labor. R. Kelly has also been charged with 8 counts of violating the Mann Act, which involves transporting any person across state lines for the purposes of prostitution or any act that can be charged as a sexual offense. Racketeering is also charged at the state level, and at state level it is associated with a specific subset of crimes. 

According to these accusations, R. Kelly is the leader of an enterprise which involves his managers, drivers, bodyguards, personal assistants and runners. The indictment states that “the purposes of the Enterprise were to promote R. Kelly’s music and the R. Kelly brand, to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly and to produce pornography, including child pornography.” 

What Is The Mann Act?

R. Kelly is facing several other separate charges, including sexual exploitation of children. Under the racketeering charge, however, R. Kelly faces several charges associated with this. The Mann Act was passed in 1910 and initially covered transporting a woman or girl across state lines for prostitution or debauchery or any other “immoral purpose.” It was used in a number of instances to target people of color and people in consensual sexual relationships or involved in sex work. The Mann Act was tied to many high-profile cases, including the singer Chuck Berry. The Mann Act was updated in 1978 and became gender neutral. It covered trafficking a person for prostitution and also for any sexual offense. Protections were also added for commercially trafficking minors. In 1986, the Mann Act was updated to protect non-commercial sexual exploitation of minors. The Mann Act has to be charged in connection with certain crimes of a sexual and/or commercial nature that also have to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. In R. Kelly’s case it is being charged in connection with several serious charges of aggravated sexual abuse. But it is also being charged in connection with misdemeanor counts of knowingly exposing some of the underage victims to herpes. The Mann Act is often charged with other related crimes. Racketeering is a well-known partner to the Mann Act as it helps to prove there was a commercial operation involving sex trafficking minors or other persons. It’s important to note however that there doesn’t have to be commercial activity for the Mann Act to be charged. 

The Case Against R. Kelly and the Consequences of the Mann Act

The racketeering case against R. Kelly appears to be a conscious strategy by the prosecution to ensure R. Kelly and his associates are held responsible for alleged coordinated sexual abuse of minors. Using a racketeering charge to connect these acts may or may not be successful in court. R. Kelly’s alleged violations of the Mann Act are connected to the charge of racketeering as what are known as “predicate” charges. For racketeering to be convicted, only two predicate charges need to be proved.

To convict for violations of The Mann Act it must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the person was transported across state lines for the specific purposes of sexual offenses. Not every person who is charged with violations of the Mann Act expressly intended to carry out sexual offenses or prostitution with a person or minor they transported across state lines. The accused may also not have transported the person across state lines with this purpose in mind. The prosecution has to connect these acts, which may be separated in time, by outlining a chain of causality. 

The prosecution in the R. Kelly case will also have to connect a “pattern” of various acts connected over time with an illegal racketeering enterprise. 

Violating the Mann Act has serious consequences and can be punishable by up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine. Racketeering can result in a life sentence if the “predicate” crimes that can be proved are punishable by a life sentence. If you are being accused of any crime that is associated with racketeering it is an extremely serious situation, as it may be associated with several acts. If you are accused of violating the Mann Act by itself, it is a crime associated with sexual offenses that carry deep stigma. With any sexually related offense, careers are often derailed and people’s lives and relationships can be deeply affected. If you are facing these charges together it’s particularly important that you contact a criminal law attorney immediately. 

Update From Attorney Vikas S. Dhar:

The jury in R. Kelly’s case reacted strongly to the evidence that the government presented to them. In today’s digital age, this could carry far-reaching consequences, especially against the backdrop of social media. We all know by now that social media posts and commentary can be easily manipulated, and human trafficking is a central issue to the fabric of modern society. 

Defense lawyers will always be available to assist those who are wrongfully charged, but it’s important to keep in mind how quickly information can travel these days, and the public should not think that any law is antiquated, such as the Mann Act, and the government will not hesitate to use it as a weapon in criminal prosecutions.


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Heading up the firm, Vikas Dhar is widely recognized as a leader in the New England legal community. An accomplished business litigator and a “Top 40 Under 40” criminal defense attorney, he has also been honored as a New England Super Lawyer/Rising Star in the area of White-Collar Criminal Defense for each of the past six years by Boston Magazine.

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