Empire star Jussie Smollett has furiously denied paying two Nigerian brothers $3,500 to attack him and says he is ‘angered and devastated’ after investigators in Chicago claimed he orchestrated his own assault.
Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, told Entertainment Weekly: ‘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.’
His lawyers now say that one of men was Smollett’s personal trainer for a music video. They added: ‘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.’
The stunning turn of events saw the two men involved in the alleged hoax now fully cooperating with law enforcement, CNN reported Saturday.
On January 29, two men ‘yelled out racial and homophobic slurs’ while attacking Smollett, the actor told police.
One of the assailants tied a rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him, Smollett claimed at the time.
THE FULL STATEMENT FROM JUSSIE SMOLLETT’S ATTORNEYS
Lawyers Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson issued the following statement on Jussie’s behalf on Saturday night: ‘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.’
During the attack, the assailants yelled ‘Empire f****t’ and ‘Empire n*****,’ the actor has long maintained.
That narrative, however, is now under serious scrutiny by investigators, who reportedly have evidence that Smollett directed his ‘attackers’ to buy the rope used in the ‘assault’ at a local hardware store.
Documents prove two Nigerian brothers who work as extras on the highly rated Fox drama bought the rope which was found around Smollett’s neck at Crafty Beaver Hardware Store in Chicago.
The brothers made the purchase on the weekend of January 25.
They also bought two red plain hats that they wore during the alleged attack, according to sources close to the investigation.
Police believe that the red hats were purchased at a local beauty supply store in the Uptown section of Chicago.
‘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,’ Chicago Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said.
‘We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.’
Chicago police are now ‘eager to speak to Jussie Smollett’ in light of the new information that was uncovered, according to ABC News.
‘We have been in touch with Smollett’s attorneys,’ a Chicago Police Department spokesperson said.
‘We made our intentions clear,’ he said.
Brothers Olabinjo ‘Ola’ Osundairo, 27, and Abimbola ‘Abel’ Osundairo, 25, were cut loose from police custody late on Friday. They had been held since Wednesday, after being picked up at O’Hare Airport while disembarking a flight from Nigeria.
The brothers were paid $3,500 before leaving for Nigeria and were promised another $500 upon returning, according to WBBM-TV.
Earlier on Saturday, Smollett hired Michael Cohen’s high-powered criminal defense attorney, as the police investigation into the attack he reported last month took a sudden shift amid allegations of a hoax.
Attorney Michael Monico, a former federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Illinois, revealed in a radio interview on Thursday in Chicago that he is representing Smollett.
Monico, speaking on WGN’s The Roe Conn Show, did not reveal how long he has been representing Smollet or in what capacity. Monico last month took over as co-counsel for Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer.
It came as police in Chicago suddenly released the two Nigerian extras on Smollett’s show, who had previously been described as suspects in the attack, saying that ‘new evidence’ had emerged in their interrogations that requires further detective work.
‘Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,’ Guglielmi said in a statement on Friday night.
The Osundairo brothers’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, spoke briefly to reporters after their release, hinting that Smollett’s legal future could hold difficulties.
‘There’s so many moving parts to this that will come out in time,’ Schmidt said when asked if her clients had helped Smollett stage the attack. ‘I’m going to let them tell their story when the time is right.’
Smollett made international headlines after reporting the attack on January 29, in which he said two men assaulted him at 2am on a Chicago street, shouting vile racist and homophobic slurs.
The actor said that he fought back bravely as the two men shouted ‘this is MAGA country,’ poured bleach on him, and looped a noose around his neck.
Smollett has vigorously denied speculation that details of the attack were fabricated or staged, speaking out in an interview that aired on Wednesday just hours before the Osundairo brothers were detained.
It is unclear at this time what the Osundairo brothers told police that would alter the course of the investigation.
Late on Friday, police sources said that cops had seized a bottle of bleach from Smollett’s apartment, according to Fox News correspondent Matt Finn.
Meanwhile, new information surfaced about the Osundairo brothers, who in the course of 48 hours went from ‘potential persons of interest’ to ‘potential suspects’ to being under arrest because investigators had ‘probable cause that they were involved in a crime’ to being set free.
Since their release on Friday night, they have been staying at an undisclosed location.
Police said that the brothers were the two men who were seen on a surveillance image released to the public, and Smollett positively identified the two men in the image as his attackers in a televised interview.
The two brothers are both strongly opposed to President Donald Trump and fervently pro-LGBT, fellow Empire cast and crew members tell TMZ. Both men are said to be loyal fans of former President Barack Obama.
Smollett is said to be close with the brothers and would frequently approach them on set to discuss health and fitness.
Colleagues on the tight-knit Empire set said they had a hard time imagining that the Osundairo brothers could have been involved in the kind of homophobic and bigoted attack that Smollett described.
Police initially said that they tied the brothers to the reported attack using meticulous investigative efforts, including surveillance videos and information from ride-sharing companies.
Although Smollett said he did not know who attacked him, both brothers are known to the actor and he follows them on social media.
Their shared Instagram account also features a video of them working out at the private gym in Smollett’s luxury apartment block.
The brothers left Chicago for Nigeria hours after the attack.
Their shared apartment was also raided by police, who took away bottles of bleach, electronics, a red hat and a pair of Nike shoes.
The FBI is also involved in the investigation after Smollett reported receiving hate mail.
Federal investigators have taken the lead on the mail case, and are supporting Chicago police in the investigation into Smollett’s report of an assault.
Police have been cautious in their official public statements about the case. At last report, investigators still officially considered Smollett a victim in the case.
Smollett has continued to angrily denounce any speculation that the attack did not occur as he described, ascribing racist motives to skeptics and saying that no one would doubt him if he had reported being attacked by non-white assailants.
‘I will never be the man that this did not happen to,’ he told ABC on Wednesday. ‘I am forever changed.’
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ariel Zilber and Keith Griffith