Two police sources with knowledge of the investigation into the attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett told CNN on Saturday that they believe he paid two brothers from Nigeria to orchestrate his assault.
The brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, were questioned on Wednesday and released without charges Friday. Both men had been friendly with Smollett, sometimes working out with him, and Olabinjo had appeared on Empire as an extra in 2015.
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday evening, “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.”
Michael Monico, a defense attorney representing Smollett, did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment Saturday evening.
Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Saturday evening that the two men are now cooperating fully, and that there are records showing they bought rope at a hardware store in Chicago prior to the attack. CBS reported that the brothers were paid $3,500 before leaving for Nigeria and promised $500 more on their return.
Smollett said he was attacked in Chicago on Jan. 29 by men who placed a rope around his neck and poured an unknown substance on him. In a Good Morning America interview on Feb. 14, he denied reports that the men wore “Make America Great Again” hats, but characterized the incident as racist and homophobic.
“They called me a f****t, they called me a n****r,” Smollett said in the interview. “There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on some racist sundae.”
Questions about the incident have swirled since it was first reported. Smollett had been cooperative in police interviews, but there was no footage of the alleged attack. He said he had been on the phone with his manager, who also said he heard the men shout homophobic slurs.
Smollett initially refused to turn over his phone records from that night. Then, 13 days after the assault, gave investigators a PDF file containing a redacted list of his calls, according to police spokesman Guglielmi. Those records confirmed the call with his manager.
ABC7 reported on Thursday that “multiple sources” said that the alleged attack was being investigated as a hoax, with Smollett potentially arranging it because he was being written off Empire. Chicago Police officially denied that story later the same day.
“Media reports about the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives,” Guglielmi tweeted. “Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
Fox, the network that airs Empire, also denied that story.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment told Deadline. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”