Jussie Smollett paid $5000 to stage attack because he wanted a pay rise: police

Jussie Smollett paid $5000 to stage attack because he wanted a pay rise: police

February 21, 2019

Chicago: Empire actor Jussie Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career" when he made a false police report about an attack, police say.

A booking photo of Jussie Smollett.Credit:Chicago Police Department

Smollett, a 36-year-old black, openly gay actor, was charged with falsely claiming two apparent supporters of US President Donald Trump launched a homophobic and racist attack on him in the early hours of January 29.

In an extraordinary press conference, a furious Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson said he was "offended [and] angry" that Smollett had smeared the city's reputation and used up police resources.

When investigators figured out the real motive behind the attack, "quite frankly, it pissed everybody off", Johnson said.

"It's shameful because it painted this city that we all love… in a negative connotation," he said. "He knew as a celebrity he would get a lot of attention, it's just despicable. It makes you wonder what's going through someone's mind."

Johnson said Smollett sent a racist and homophobic threatening letter to himself at the Fox studio lot about a week before the attack.

He said Smollett was dissatisfied with his salary.

A furious Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett had smeared the city’s reputation and used up valuable police resources.Credit:AP

When the letter didn't attract enough attention, he allegedly paid two Nigerian brothers $US3500 ($4925) to stage the attack at about 2am in downtown Chicago. Police have obtained records of the money withdrawal or transfer.

"This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with this salary. He concocted a story about being attacked," Johnson said.

Smollett told police he was attacked by two masked men who beat him, poured a chemical substance on him, looped a rope around his neck, made racist and homophobic comments, and yelled "this is MAGA country" – a reference to Trump's campaign slogan – before fleeing.

CCTV taken in the early hours of January 29 showed the two people of interest that were interviewed by police and later released.Credit:Chicago Police Department

Police tracked the two men using CCTV cameras, ride share data and information from taxis. The information led them to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where the brothers had boarded a flight to Nigeria immediately after the incident.

When they returned two weeks later on return tickets, they were arrested.

After questioning the brothers in detention for 48 hours, police concluded they were victims and the investigation shifted dramatically. The two testified before a grand jury on Wednesday, hours before charges were announced.

Police have obtained CCTV of the brothers buying items used in the attack at a store. Some items were also found in their home.

Phone records show they talked to Smollett an hour before and after the attack and while they were overseas.

Smollett knew the pair from the show Empire. One was a minor actor and had helped Smollett with personal training.

Johnson said Smollett had no substantial injuries; some minor scratches and bruises on his face were likely self-inflicted.

Looking out at a crowded room of reporters at police headquarters, Johnson said: "I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention."

Jussie Smollett was dissatisfied with his pay on the TV show Empire, police said.Credit:AP

The alleged attack became a flashpoint in US politics and race relations. Initially, Smollett received support on social media, including from several celebrities and Democratic presidential candidates who decried an atmosphere of racism and hate spreading across the country.

Many cited his account as another example in a rising tide of hate crimes, which the FBI said last year had increased for the third straight year.

But others were immediately sceptical of the incident; there was no CCTV footage of the attack and Smollett had declined to hand over phone records despite saying he had been speaking to his manager when the attack began.

Smollett was charged on Wednesday with felony disorder conduct. He turned himself in at 5am on Thursday accompanied by his attorneys and will appear in a bail court later on Thursday.

with Reuters

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