Recent developments in the alleged attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett have led authorities to shift the direction of their investigation, with Smollett no longer being considered a victim as evidence emerges that the incident may have been a hoax perpetrated under his direction.
Initial investigation reports identified two men via surveillance cameras in the same area as Smollett during the time of the reported assault. The two men were later picked up by the Chicago Police Department at O’Hare International Airport as they returned from a trip to Nigeria, a trip for which they departed for on January 29th, hours after Smollett reported the assault had occurred. The two men have since been identified as brothers Obabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo by their attorney, Gloria Schmidt.
The brothers allege that they were paid $3,500 by Smollett to stage the attack, with another $500 promised by Smollett upon their return from Nigeria. The rope and bleach used to attack Smollett were bought at the Crafty Beaver Hardware Store in Ravenswood at the direction of Smollett, with a red hat being purchased at a local beauty supply store. The staged attack was rehearsed prior to its occurrence and was allegedly supposed to occur prior to January 29th. The brothers were released without charges on Friday, February 15th and later issued a joint statement during a conversation with CBS 2 reporter Charlie De Mar:
I just spoke to Ola and Abel Osundairo on the phone. It was brief but they stressed the following.
“We are not racist. We are not homophobic. And we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”https://t.co/0TtYH1awDE
— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) February 18, 2019
The Osundairo brothers also claim that the false hate crime was staged due to what Smollett perceived as a lack of attention towards a threatening letter which was sent to Fox Studios in Chicago and addressed to Smollett, but detectives who are investigating the claim have not yet confirmed or denied the veracity of this claim.
In an e-mail statement by Anthony Guglielmi, the Chicago Police Department spokesman indicated that following their interviews with the Osundairo brothers, new information had changed the ‘trajectory of the investigation’:
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Guglielmi followed up this statement with a tweet reiterating that the investigation is still ongoing and that Chicago Police investigators are not in a position to comment on unofficially released information:
While we are not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what’s been unofficially released, there are some developments in this investigation and detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident. pic.twitter.com/b9GgXbSUt9
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 17, 2019
An unnamed police source told Deadline that “The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident”.
Smollett himself continues to deny that he participated in orchestrating the attack on his person, and issued a statement denying these accusations and proclaiming his innocence through his attorneys, Victor P. Henderson and Todd Pugh, on February 16th:
As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.
One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.
Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate. At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to “unnamed” sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.
However, despite investigator’s requests to conduct a follow-up interview with Smollett, Smollett had no plans to meet with investigators on Monday, February 18th, and a statement was issued by Anne Kavanaugh, a spokeswoman for Smollett, indicating that Smollett would be speaking with authorities through his legal counsel:
There are no plans for Jussie Smollett to meet with Chicago police today. Any news reports suggesting otherwise are inaccurate. Smollett’s attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf.
Previous reports suggested that a possible motive for Smollett’s staging of the false hate crime was due to his character being written off of Empire, but these rumors were categorically denied by Empire producers, Twentieth Century Fox Television, and Fox Entertainment. Ironically, Deadline reports that Smollett’s upcoming scenes are “being slashed for production on Empire this week”, but that episodes for the show’s 5th season which have already completed production are unlikely to be altered.