Jussie Smollett is accused of staging an attack on himself because he was “dissatisfied with his salary,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Thursday.
The “Empire” actor on Wednesday was charged with a felony for filing a false report in the racist and homophobic assault he claimed to have suffered in Chicago last month. He turned himself in to police custody early Thursday.
Smollett was paid $65,000 per episode for his co-starring role in the most recent season of “Empire,” a well-placed source told HuffPost. On average, there are 18 episodes of “Empire” per season.
Johnson said during a press briefing that Smollett paid two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack that garnered national attention for weeks.
Smollett’s bond was set at $100,000 and he was ordered to give up his passport. He posted bond on Thursday and has been released.
Johnson said Smollett first sent himself a threatening letter with homophobic and racial slurs before allegedly paying the men to attack him. Some of the scratches and bruises seen on Smollett’s face in pictures he took after the incident were likely self-inflicted, Johnson said.
Smollett claimed two masked men attacked him on Jan. 29, wrapped a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs and said, “this is MAGA country” before fleeing the scene.
Police initially investigated the incident as a hate crime, but they began to suspect the actor after reviewing footage from more than 50 security cameras in the area, checking phone, bank and taxi records, and interviewing the men they had in custody. The men told police that Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary.
Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson
Prosecutors on Thursday provided details about the accusation that Smollett coordinated the attack. (The full bond proffer with the details can be read in full below.)
They said Smollett texted his friend Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo on Jan. 25 and asked when he and brother, Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were leaving for their planned trip to Nigeria. Abel Osundairo said they planned to leave the evening of Jan. 29. According to the proffer, Smollett texted back, “Might need your help on the low. You around to meet up and talk face to face?”
Prosecutors said Smollett and Abel Osundairo met in Chicago later that day, and that Smollett allegedly expressed his displeasure in how his studio had responded to a racist and homophobic letter he said he had received days earlier. He allegedly asked Abel if he and Ola could help him stage an attack.
Smollett gave the brothers $100 to buy supplies, including rope, gasoline and red baseball caps, according to the document. Prosecutors said he also later provided a check for $3,500, which was backdated to Jan. 23 and made out to Abel Osundairo. Police said the brothers used the $100 bill to purchase some of the supplies on Jan. 28; prosecutors said they could corroborate that using surveillance video and a store receipt.
Prosecutors said Smollett met with the brothers on Jan. 27 to show where he wanted the staged attack to take place, allegedly pointing out the exact surveillance camera by his apartment that he wanted to capture the incident. Smollett also allegedly told the brothers not to bring their cellphones and later told them to use bleach instead of gasoline, according to the bond document.
Prosecutors said Smollett had an eight-minute phone conversation with one of the brothers after the attack. Police said the brothers were in Turkey during the call and en route to Nigeria.
Smollett has shamed the city, Johnson said, adding that the “publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”
“Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” Johnson asked. “How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?”
“I wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he added.
20th Century Fox released a statement Thursday saying an internal investigation into Smollett was underway. The company had previously denied rumors that the actor’s role had been cut from “Empire.”
“We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process,” the statement said. “We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
Smollett could face up to three years in prison.
Read the full bond proffer here:
This article has been updated with comment from 20th Century Fox and details from the bond proffer.
Sanjana Karanth contributed to this repot.