Empire actor Jussie Smollett reportedly staged an attack against himself in late January after a “racist” letter sent to the TV show’s studio, which contained a white powder, did not get a “bigger reaction,” according to a local Chicago news station.
A source told CBS Chicago the actor allegedly “concocted” the “staged” Jan. 29 attack and paid his “acquaintances”—brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo—over $3,000 to carry it out.
Smollett reportedly opened the letter on Jan. 22 at Chicago’s Cinespace Studios, and the white powder prompted a HAZMAT team to respond. Chicago Police Department told the news station that the substance turned out to be aspirin. Cinespace Studios would not comment to The Daily Beast about the incident. Fox, Empire's network, also declined to provide comment or confirmation.
The missive itself contained letters cut out from magazines to create “racial and homophobic threats” towards Smollett specifically. During a search of the Osundairo brothers’ home last week, CPD reportedly found and took a “magazine, a wallet with stamps and piece of paper/writing.” According to CBS Chicago, the FBI is now handling the probe into the letter.
In a statement to CBS Chicago, Smollett's lawyers said they have been in contact with the Chicago Police Department.
“Jussie will continue to cooperate with the investigation in an appropriate and respectful manner that does not include talking to the media at this time,” Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson wrote.
“We are not racist. We are not homophobic, and we are not anti-Trump,” the brothers—one, reportedly an Empire extra and the other, Smollett’s ex-personal trainer—said in a statement. “We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”
The Osundairo brothers’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, said “all the facts will reveal themselves” in due time. “At the end of the day my clients are honest and credible,” she told CBS Chicago.
The brothers are now reportedly cooperating with the Chicago police after being released without charges. They reportedly fled to Nigeria after the incident and were arrested upon their return to the U.S.
Initially, Smollett claimed two white men attacked him on the streets of Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 29. One attacker allegedly wore a red hat while yelling racist and homophobic slurs at him, and the other poured bleach and tied a rope around Smollett’s neck. On a Feb. 14 appearance on “Good Morning America,” Smollett reiterated the racial overtones of the alleged attack.
“They called me a faggot, they called me a n---er,” he said. “There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on some racist sundae.”
It was previously reported by CBS Chicago that at least one of the brothers allegedly purchased a rope “at Smollett’s request” from a hardware store on Jan. 25, and the brothers rehearsed the attack with Smollett days before it took place. The news station also reported that a red hat was also purchased at a neighborhood beauty supply store.
The brothers told officials Smollett paid them $3,500 before they fled to Nigeria after the attack took place and the actor promised them another $500 upon their return, according to CBS Chicago.
Chicago Police Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi said there were “some developments” in their probe on Sunday. “Detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident,” Guglielmi wrote on Twitter.
Smollett’s attorneys have denied that the attack was staged by their client.
“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,” Pugh and Henderson said in a statement Sunday. “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.”