The singer R. Kelly has denied claims that he keeps a household of young women in a "cult" atmosphere.
The 50-year-old has been accused of running a “cult” of young aspiring female musicians, living in a series of houses in Atlanta and Chicago, and forbidden from using their own mobile phones.
Two sets of parents have gone to the police to try and win back their daughters, who approached the 50-year-old with the aim of furthering their music careers, and ended up estranged from their families.
The police have investigated, but the girls insist they are in love with Kelly. And, as they are over the age of consent, there is nothing that law enforcement can do.
Kelly’s lawyer, Linda Mensch, defended the singer.
"Mr Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations attributed to him," she said, in a statement emailed to The Telegraph.
"Mr Kelly unequivocally denies such allegations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name."
Chicago-born Kelly, best known for the hit I Believe I Can Fly, was sexually abused by men and women, including relatives, from the age of seven to 15. When he was 27 he married 15-year-old singer Aaliyah, lying on the marriage certificate to say she was 18. He has been tried for child pornography, and found not guilty on all accounts.
A Chicago-based lawyer, Susan Loggans, told BuzzFeed News that she had negotiated “numerous” settlements with women before lawsuits were filed, and recently included one for a 17-year-old aspiring singer from Chicago’s West Side who is said to have been part of Kelly’s inner circle.
BuzzFeed spoke to three women - Cheryl Mack, Kitti Jones, and Asante McGee – who were formerly part of Kelly’s inner circle, and made deeply troubling allegations of physical and mental abuse.
They said six women live in properties rented by Kelly in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs, and he controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records and shows to his male friends.
They said the women, who he calls his “babies,” are required to call him “Daddy” and must ask his permission to leave.
Communications are tightly controlled, and when one girl laughed at a joke made by a male taxi driver, it was reported to Kelly, who allegedly “whupped her on the ass” for talking to another man.
Miss Mack, who in 2013 began working as Kelly’s personal assistant – a role she held for a year and a half - said the women were duped into believing: “This is R. Kelly, I’m going to live a lavish lifestyle.”
She continued: “No. You have to ask for food. You have to ask to go use the bathroom. [Kelly] is a master at mind control. He is a puppet master.”
The family of one girl, from Georgia, told BuzzFeed News they had gone to the police and made repeated efforts to bring her home.
“I’m gravely concerned about her,” the grandmother said. “I would tell R. Kelly to send my granddaughter home. He knows it’s not right and he would not want anybody doing this to his daughter.”
Her father, Tim, added: “It’s not about my daughter, per se. It’s about all the girls.
“The abuse that my daughter is actually enduring, nobody should go through.”
A second set of parents, whose Florida daughter left to live in one the houses Kelly rented for the girls when she was 17, told BuzzFeed that she had almost vanished from their lives.
“I have not talked to my daughter in more than a year,” her mother, Theresa, said, adding she has left countless texts and voicemail messages that have not yet received a response.
“We’ve had deaths in the family, birthdays, and I haven’t heard from her and she hasn’t been here for any of it. I didn’t even hear from her on Mother’s Day. All I want to do is bring her home.”