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CHICAGO — Jurors in R. Kelly’s federal child pornography trial on Tuesday heard a tale seemingly ripped from a B-movie script: Clandestine hotel meetings. Sex tapes. Bags filled with cash. Tough guys with guns.

But this was no movie, according to Charles Freeman, a key prosecution witness who was at the center of it all.

Instead, Freeman said, it was a real-life cloak-and-dagger scheme orchestrated by Kelly and his associates to recover video footage of the R&B superstar allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Freeman was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in exchange for getting at least one of the tapes back, he said.

The plot as described by Freeman spanned almost a decade, and unfolded in cities from Chicago to Kansas City and Atlanta, at Kelly’s music studio, concert venues and even the singer’s sprawling Olympia Fields, Illinois, mansion, where Freeman said he was told to strip naked and get in a pool to prove he wasn’t wearing a wire.

Attorneys for Kelly and his co-defendants Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown are slated to begin cross-examining Freeman on Wednesday. It should be lively: In opening statements last week, defense lawyers told jurors Freeman is a con artist, an extortionist, a liar and a criminal.

Freeman is testifying under an immunity agreement from prosecutors. His testimony is key to the allegations that Kelly, McDavid and Brown conspired to cover up Kelly’s misdeeds while he was being investigated and prosecuted for child pornography.

Freeman entered the packed courtroom Tuesday dressed in a blue suit and dark-tinted glasses. He took his glasses and black face mask off before he started testifying.

Throughout his three hours on the stand, Freeman spoke in blunt tones about the business he was involved in, acknowledging that brought along bodyguards as “muscle” to meetings with Kelly’s associates and spent nine of years of his life obsessed with “getting that money” that had been promised to him.

Freeman’s vivid but often-jumbled recollections of the events from years ago left many in the courtroom — including attorneys and, at times, some jurors — with bemused expressions, whether it was describing the “rinky-dink excuses” Kelly’s camp kept giving him for failing to pay, or telling the jury how at one meeting with them, he pulled out a videotape he’d hidden “between my pants and my butt cheeks.”

Kelly, meanwhile, was animated as he listened to the testimony, leaning over to whisper to his attorneys and appearing to chuckle at one point as Freeman described the way they became friends in the early 1990s after a misunderstanding about a jacket.

Their friendship began while Freeman was doing merchandising for a tour that featured Kelly’s first group, Public Announcement, he said. He said they bonded over basketball and “really became cool and friends.” Then, in 2001, he got a call from Kelly, who said he wanted Freeman to “recover some tapes.”

Not long afterward, he heard from McDavid and private investigator Jack Palladino, he testified, who said there would be a “reward” if he could get the stolen video back. At the time of the phone calls, he did not know what was on the tape, he said.

“Derrel said it was a performance tape they really needed to recover, and if I would recover the tape they would take care of me,” Freeman said. “Those were his exact words.”

Freeman was told that an ex-girlfriend of Kelly’s, Lisa Van Allen, had stolen the video and given it to some people in Atlanta, he testified. He signed a contract in August 2001 to recover the tapes for $100,000 plus expenses — not the million dollars he had agreed to, he said.

McDavid told him he’d get the full million, “but how do we know what you recovered is what we’re wanting? We need originals and make sure this is the actual evidence tapes,” Freeman said.

“It would look bad if we gave you a million dollars for a tape and it’s not the tape that we want,” McDavid said, according to Freeman’s testimony.

Freeman drove to a house in Georgia a few days later. He said he “figured they wasn’t just gonna hand over” anything and that they were going to have to go in “muscling.”

“A young lady came to the door and I said ‘I’m here to recover the MF tapes that y’all stole from Robert Kelly.’ Them were my exact words,” Freeman said. He said he could see into the living area, where there was a “swing for a baby” and a TV and VCR with three videocassettes nearby.

Freeman got three tapes from the house, then went to Wal-Mart and bought blank tapes and a VCR recorder, he said.

One tape was a Disney movie. Another was some kind of family video. The third was a tape of Kelly “with a young lady having sex,” Freeman said.

“What age did the female appear to be to you?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannice Appenteng asked.

“Young,” he responded.

The video, according to prosecutors, depicts Kelly sexually abusing “Jane,” his 14-year-old goddaughter at his former home in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It is different from the tape for which Kelly was criminally charged in Cook County, though it involves the same alleged victim. Kelly was ultimately acquitted in 2008 of the Cook County charges, in part because he persuaded the victim not to cooperate, according to federal prosecutors.

Freeman “immediately” made three or four copies of the Georgia tape, he said, because he didn’t trust McDavid or Palladino to pay him. He still had copies of the tape as of early 2019, he testified.

Freeman did not initially tell the police about the child pornography “because the police wasn’t going to pay me a million dollars,” he said. In early 2019, Freeman’s attorney told him “the police was coming to get me because my name came up that I was holding child pornography for Robert Kelly.” Freeman gave the tapes to his attorney, who gave them to law enforcement, he said.

Freeman turned over a copy of the tape to McDavid and Palladino, who had him pass a polygraph test about it. Later, Palladino called and said they knew he had another tape, and arranged another meeting for him to turn it over and get paid.

Freeman handed over the tape and got a bag of cash in return. It was not the full million, but they told him he’d get paid in installments — every other year “until Rob gets to court,” Freeman said. Freeman made extensive efforts over the years to get the full amount he was owed, he said, including filing two lawsuits, he testified.

In late 2003 or early 2004, McDavid reached out to Freeman again about getting a different tape, Freeman said.

“Derrel said it’s another performance tape, sex tape is what he described,” Freeman said. “With Lisa Van Allen, Robert and the young lady on the tape.”

Prosecutors have described a similar video as Video 4 of the indictment, which prosecutors have said they never recovered and cannot play for jurors.

Freeman then contacted his friend Keith Murrell, and found out Murrell had made a side deal with Kelly’s team regarding that tape, he said. Freeman copied part of the footage to a cellphone but did not recover the VHS, he testified.

Freeman believed he was owed the balance of his payment right before Kelly’s trial, he testified. In late 2007 or early 2008 he met with Kelly alone at the singer’s Olympia Fields mansion to talk about the tape he got in Georgia, he testified. The conversation took place in a replica ice cream parlor next to the sprawling home’s indoor “rainforest” pool.

“(Kelly) said he wanted to make sure I wasn’t working with the police or anything,” Freeman said.

While he was at the Olympia Fields home, he also spoke to McDavid alone at Kelly’s swimming pool, he said. McDavid initially said he wanted them both to strip naked and get in the pool so he could be sure Freeman wasn’t wearing a wire, Freeman said. Both men undressed, but left their underwear on, Freeman said.

And after McDavid jumped in the water, he assured Freeman he would get the rest of the money just before the trial.

But by the time of Kelly’s 2008 trial, Freeman still hadn’t been paid in full, he said, so he started calling reporters to announce a news conference “because I had big information about this case,” he said.

The next day, Freeman said, he got a call from Brown, who picked him up in his car and handed over a phone. Kelly was on the line.

“(Kelly) said ‘I know you not going to do a press conference and do me like this after I gave you my word I was gonna pay you,’” Freeman said.

Kelly promised him the money but said it was hard to “make any moves” during the trial, Freeman said. Brown handed him $10,000 as a show of good faith, and Freeman ultimately did not go through with the news conference, he said.

Earlier Tuesday, two lie-detector test administrators testified that they were hired to ask someone if he had made copies of a certain videotape. It was never specified for jurors whether that man was in fact Freeman.

Lawrence Berkland said he was hired by an attorney in August 2001 to test someone about whether he had made copies of a certain videotape, and whether it was the only videotape he had. Berkland gave the unidentified man three tests and he passed all three, he said.

Tuesday morning, polygraph administrator John Hurlock testified remotely from Missouri that he also was hired that same month to test someone about whether they had any other copies of a certain tape. The test subject also declined to give Hurlock his name or signature, telling him to “call him ‘Showtime.’ ”

Hurlock did not recall actually giving the subject a polygraph test.

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