Jussie Smollett claimed he was the victim of a bias attack on Jan. 29
Empire actor Jussie Smollett allegedly paid $3,500 to stage a “bogus” hate crime attack against him to draw attention to himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a Thursday press conference.
Smollett, 36, is accused of filing a false police report about his alleged hate attack on Wednesday.
At the Thursday press conference, Johnson assailed Smollett for allegedly “taking advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I’m left shaking my head and asking why.”
Johnson referred to the alleged staged attack as “a publicity stunt” that was “a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”
Prior to the attack, Johnson alleged Smollett sent a false letter to himself “that relied on racial, homophobic and political language.” Subsequently, said Johnson, Smollett allegedly choreographed the attack “because he was dissatisfied with his salary.”
Johnson said brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo — who were seen on surveillance footage the night of the incident and later questioned by police — spoke on the phone frequently with Smollett before the attack, including one hour prior.
One of the brothers worked on Empire, said Johnson, who added that Smollett allegedly chose them because of their “bulk.” Johnson the brothers hit Smollett a few times, but most of Smollett’s injuries were “self-inflicted.”
Johnson said that police have the $3,500 check Smollett allegedly wrote to the two brothers.
He said that police “had some questions” about Smollett’s account of the incident soon after he reported it, but that he was given the presumption of being a victim until the latter stages of the investigation.
Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the Chicago police, confirmed on Twitter on Thursday morning that the Empire actor is “under arrest and in custody of detectives.”
Tom Ahern, deputy director of news affairs and communications for the Chicago police, also confirmed the arrest on Twitter, writing, “Chicago Police Detectives take #Empire actor #JussieSmollett into custody to face Class 4 Felony charge (punishable for up to 3yrs in prison) for Disorderly Conduct in Falsifying Police report.”
A statement from 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment to PEOPLE reads: “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
Smollett’s bond hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CST on Thursday.
How Police Uncovered Alleged Hoax
The alleged attack was not captured by video surveillance cameras, but the brothers initially believed to be suspects were, and authorities backtracked their movements to a ride-share service whose pay account revealed their identities, said police Commander Edward Wodnicki.
Police then tracked the men to O’Hare airport and learned they’d bought round-trip tickets to Nigeria with a Feb. 13 return to Chicago. While awaiting their return, authorities subpoenaed phone and other records that showed the two had been in contact with Smollett an hour before the alleged attack, an hour afterward, and while they were out of the country.
Police then met and arrested the men upon their return, and in the very last hour of their 48-hour detention before they were required to be released without charges, the men confessed their role in working with Smollett to stage the attack.
“It was at that time that this investigation started to spin in a different direction,” said Wodnicki.
Smollett’s Legal Team Plans ‘Aggressive Defense’
The arrest news comes after Smollett and his legal team said they are gearing up to launch an “aggressive defense.”
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” Smollett’s attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a statement given to PEOPLE on Wednesday.
“Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
On Wednesday, PEOPLE confirmed that Smollett had been charged. A spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office said at the time, “The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has approved a disorderly conduct charge on Jussie Smollett.”
Guglielmi also confirmed on Twitter Wednesday that Smollett faces felony charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report.
If Smollett is found guilty, falsifying a police report is a Class 4 felony which carries a potential sentence of one to three years in prison.
Just hours before the charges were approved by the state attorney’s office, Smollett was officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by police for filing a false report.
Police named the star as a suspect after confirming to PEOPLE that he was questioned by prosecutors Wednesday.
Details of Alleged Hoax Attack
The initial report about the alleged attack raised alarm: The openly gay black actor claimed to police that he’d been physically attacked on the street in his downtown Chicago neighborhood around 2 a.m. local time on Jan. 29 by two black-clad, masked men who hurled racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with an “unknown chemical substance” and left him with a rope around his neck.
“This is MAGA country,” Smollett claimed one assailant said, invoking President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan perceived by some as a discriminatory dismissal of minorities and immigrants. Smollett’s family branded the incident a racial and homophobic hate crime, and others on social media followed suit.
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An attorney for the men, Gloria Schmidt, previously told CBS Chicago that the men know Smollett from working on Empire and occasionally go to the same gym as the actor. She did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment at the time.
“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,” according to a statement from Smollett’s lawyers prior to his arrest. “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.”
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement continued. “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”