The popular Empire Actor Jussie Smollett paid two Nigerian brothers to stage a homophobic attack on him and pose as supporters of President Donald Trump because he was unhappy with his pay on the hip-hop TV drama “Empire,” Chicago’s police chief said.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, was arrested on Thursday and charged with lying to police about the supposed attack on Jan. 29. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was visibly angered as he condemned Smollett’s actions.
Police did not spell out how the 36-year-old actor hoped to boost his salary by staging such a hoax.
“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson told a news conference, adding that the actor paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the supposed hate crime.
“This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with this salary. He concocted a story about being attacked,” Johnson said. “We gave him the benefit of the doubt.”
Police did not say how much Smollett is paid for his role on “Empire.” If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of one to three years.
A judge set bail at $100,000 and ordered Smollett to surrender his passport. The actor, who turned himself in early on Thursday, was released from jail after paying 10 percent of the bail amount as stipulated by the judge.
In court, Smollett wore a black jacket and stared at the prosecutor as she detailed the allegations against him.
A spokesman for Smollett’s lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, said in an email, “Once we are ready to make statement we will do so.” On Wednesday, the lawyers had said they were conducting a thorough investigation to form an aggressive defense.
Smollett had claimed that two masked men struck him and put a noose round his neck while shouting “This is MAGA country,” referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. It was initially reported that an unknown substance was poured over him, but Johnson on Thursday said that was unclear.
“@JussieSmollett – what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
The Smollett case touched off a furor in the United States as it tapped into increasingly heated political divisions since Trump’s 2016 election. Critics of the president have said his rhetoric has fueled racism and violence, while his supporters say the press has been too quick to embrace any news that appears to cast Trump and his supporters in a bad light.