Since the alleged R. Kelly sex tapes first hit the media two months ago, the primary question has been if the girl featured on the 27-minute tape, currently under investigation by the Chicago police, was actually underage, since her identity had been kept hidden.
While her immediate family as well as the girl herself have yet to step forward, a former protégé of R. Kelly has told a Los Angeles radio station that the girl on the tape is her niece, whom she says was 14 at the time the tape was made.
Sparkle, who had a hit with Kelly in 1998 called "Be Careful," told radio DJ Adimu of the Beat (KKBT) on April 3 that her niece was a fledging rapper whom she introduced to Kelly. She said this took place during a time when other members of her family also had a working relationship with the singer (Sparkle's brother-in-law, for instance, played guitar for Kelly, she said). Sparkle claimed that her niece met Kelly when she was 12. "We've had contact all along with the girl's family," Chicago police spokesperson Officer Pat Camden said. "But until our investigation is complete, we can't confirm or deny that [Sparkle is the girl's aunt]."
Sparkle said that she regrets not being a better protector of her niece. "She kept coming down with me," she told the station, "which was [a] safe [situation] at the time. But after R. and I parted ways, it was me not watching over her. So I feel a responsibility for that also, although I'm not responsible for his actions, I feel responsible for even taking her there. ... It's messed up. She's being exposed to the world. It's sickening."
Though it's causing division within her family, Sparkle said that she's aiding the Chicago police investigation. Her family would rather keep the matter quiet, she said, even if that means protecting an alleged predator. "It's crazy and torn up, in every way imaginable," she said. "It's hurtful to my sister, to my brother-in-law and to my niece, especially, because it's all her."
More cases against R. Kelly will come forward, Sparkle predicted, if they don't settle out of court first. "There have been a couple that have come to light that have settled out of court, so that they would not go to criminal court," Sparkle said, referring to Kelly's settlements with Tracy Sampson and Tiffany Hawkins. "But there are others that haven't been spoken of that have been possibly paid off. ... As of today, they're still investigating the situation. I believe that [the police] have a lot that they are actually going to bring to light."
Though Kelly has talked to local Chicago media about the scandal, he hasn't addressed a lot of the questions people have about the tapes. His response thus far has been that the tapes are fabricated and that he's been blackmailed. In one of his few public comments on the issue, Kelly told Chicago radio station WGCI-FM in Chicago on April 4 that he couldn't comment on much of the scandal, per his attorney's advice. He did say, however, that not all the evidence had been revealed (see "R. Kelly Settles Civil Suit, Defends Himself On Radio").
"I have an ex-manager that's been on my back," he said. "A lot of people know about it, but when the smoke clears, you guys will really be able to know exactly what is going on. ... People are trying to make money off my music and my name in a very, very negative way. I've been blackmailed for the last four years, and I didn't give in, and I'm still not gonna give in. ... There are a lot of people who are very jealous of me right now ... and they're trying to destroy me."
In the meantime, Kelly has hired private investigator Jack Palladino to help build his defense, Palladino's office confirmed. Chicago police have not charged Kelly, and will only say that their investigation is continuing.
For full coverage of R. Kelly, see "The R. Kelly Reports."