CHICAGO – "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett carefully plotted a hoax attack that was intended to make him look like the victim of a brutal anti-black, homophobic crime, prosecutors said Thursday.
He scouted out the exact location with the two brothers he paid to stage the attack, offered specific instructions on how he wanted to be beaten, and even gave them $100 to buy supplies used in the staged assault, prosecutors said.
The revelations came as Smollett made his first court appearance Thursday afternoon at a bond hearing following his early-morning arrest on a charge of disorderly conduct by filing a false police report.
Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. set Smollett’s bond at $100,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport. No plea was entered and the actor said little other than giving his name. Smollett posted bond late Thursday afternoon and walked out of the Cook County Jail without making comment to a phalanx of reporters.
Smollett told investigators he was beaten by two masked men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck in the fashion of a noose and poured bleach on him. He also told investigators that the men who attacked yelled,"This is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign slogan.
Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier said Smollett plotted the attack with the brothers, describing one of the men, Amibola “Abel” Osundairo, 25, as a close friend of the actor's.
Lanier said the three men met on Jan. 25 and planned the attack during a conversation in the actor’s car. The attack was originally planned for 10 p.m. CST on Jan. 28 but had to be pushed back a few hours because the actor’s flight from New York was delayed.
“Smollett also stated that he wanted the brothers to catch his attention by calling him an ‘Empire F—- Empire N—-,” Lanier said. “Smollett further detailed he wanted Abel to attack him, but not hurt him too badly and give him a chance to appear to fight back."
Lanier said Smollett asked the other brother, Olabinjo Osundairo, to "place a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell, ‘This is MAGA country.' ”
He also initially directed the brothers to pour gasoline on him during the attack but later suggested they use bleach, Lanier said.
Smollett and the brothers met again on Jan. 27. The actor picked the brothers up from their home on the city’s North Side and drove them to the area near his apartment where he wanted them to stage the attack, Lanier said.
The actor instructed the brothers not to bring their cellphones with them. That day he also wrote a $3,500 check to Abel Osundairo that was backdated to Jan. 23.
He also gave the brothers $100 to buy a ski mask, red hat and other supplies to be used in the attack, Lanier said.
“Smollett and Abel socialized together, exercised together, as well as worked together on the Fox television series 'Empire,' ” Lanier said. “Within that working relationship, Abel was a stand-in for the character 'Kai' who is a love interest of defendant Smollett's character on the 'Empire' TV show.”
Prosecutors say texts between Abel Osundairo and Smollett show he also provided the drug ecstasy to the actor.
Lanier said one witness, an employee for NBC News, which has offices near where the alleged hoax assault took place, saw it go down.
“This witness indicated that she heard nothing at the time the staged attack was occurring, despite the fact the defendant Smollett told CPD detectives that his attackers were yelling racial and homophobic slurs at him, and he in turn was yelling back at them," Lanier said
A half dozen people who identified to the court as family members of Smollett watched the roughly 15 minute hearing.
Smollett, wearing a light black winter coat, watched intently as Lanier detailed the prosecution’s case. At moments, his mouth fell slightly agape as Lanier outlined the case.
Judge Lyke was taken aback by the allegations outlined against Smollett even as he told the actor he has the presumption of innocence.
“The most vile and despicable part of it, if it’s true, is the noose," said Lyke, who is black. "That symbol conjures up such evil in this country’s history."
Jack Prior, a member Smollett’s legal defense team, said his client “vehemently denies” the charges and said that the case presented by prosecutors doesn’t jibe with the actor’s character.
He noted that in his five years living in Chicago, Smollett has become involved in philanthropy and volunteer work, even giving song-writing classes to detainees in the Illinois correctional system.
“He’s not a flight risk,” Prior said in urging the judge to set a low bond.
At a morning press conference, police detailed how the 36-year-old actor choreographed a homophobic, racist attack against himself with the help of two brothers he knew, in an attempt to raise his profile because he was dissatisfied with the salary he was making. He is also prohibited from having contact with brothers as a condition of his bail.
Smollett, who is gay and black, staged the Jan. 29 attack to look like a hate crime, to take "advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," said Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who is also African-American.
"First Smollett attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial homophobic and political language," Johnson said. "When that didn’t work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack. ... The stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary, so he concocted a story about being attacked."
Smollett has played Jamal Lyon on "Empire" since 2015. Fox said Thursday it is weighing its response.
“We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process," 20th Century Fox Studio and Fox Entertainment said in a statement. "We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
Johnson, Chicago's top cop, railed against Smollett, who he said was embraced by Chicago but unfairly added to the city’s image as a crime mecca.
“I am offended that this happened and I am angry,” he said. "This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve.”
Johnson said he was worried about how this would impact public perception of hate-crime investigations in the future.
“I’m also concerned about what this means moving forward for hate crimes,” he said. “Now, of course, the Chicago Police Department will continue to investigate all reports of these types of incidents with the same amount of vigor that we did with this one. My concern is that hate crimes will now be publicly met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen.”
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