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Jussie Smollett 'faked Chicago attack for a pay rise'

Jussie Smollett of 'Empire' fame wanted to advance his career, police say

Jussie Smollett after his arrest by Chicago police. AP.
Jussie Smollett after his arrest by Chicago police. AP.

Actor Jussie Smollett paid two brothers $3,500 to stage a racist and homophobic attack because he was unhappy with his salary on the TV drama Empire, Chicago's police chief said on Thursday.

Smollett was arrested on Thursday and charged with lying to police about the attack on January 29, Supt Eddie Johnson said.

The police chief was angry as he condemned Smollett's actions. Police did not say how the actor, 36, hoped to boost his salary by faking an attack by supporters of US President Donald Trump.

"Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Mr Johnson said.

"This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with this salary. He concocted a story about being attacked. We gave him the benefit of the doubt."

Police did not say how much Smollett earned for his Empire role. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of one to three years.

Smollett claimed two Trump supporters struck him and put a noose round his neck while shouting: "This is Maga [Make America Great Again] country."

Mr Trump responded on Thursday through Twitter: "JussieSmollett, what about Maga and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments? Maga."

20th Century Fox Television, which broadcasts Empire, said it understood the seriousness of the matter and respected the legal process.

"We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options," the company said.

The Cook County State's attorney's office approved felony criminal charges against Smollett for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report, police said on Wednesday.

He had a bond hearing scheduled for later on Thursday.

A spokesman for Smollet's lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, said on Thursday: "Once we are ready to make a statement we will do so."

On Wednesday, they said they were conducting a thorough investigation for an aggressive defence.

Police interviewed more than 100 people, reviewed video from more than 55 surveillance cameras and executed more than 50 search warrants during the investigation.

Mr Johnson said Smollett had first tried to gain attention by sending himself a threatening letter filled with "racial, homophobic and political language".

"When that didn't work, he paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud," the police chief said.

On February 13, police arrested the two brothers who were identified from surveillance footage of the area in which Smollett said the attack occurred.

One of the brothers worked with the actor on Empire, police said.

Near the end of the 48 hours in which police are allowed to detain suspects without charging them, the brothers "decided to confess to the entirety of the plot", Mr Johnson said.

They became co-operating witnesses and were released two days later without charges.

Since the alleged attack, Smollett received support on social media, including messages from celebrities and Democratic presidential candidates.

Others were sceptical of the incident, which Smollett said occurred about 2am on a Chicago street during one of the city's coldest weeks in recent history.

In an interview with Good Morning America last week, he said he was angry that some people questioned his story, and he suggested the disbelief might come from racial bias.

Police have now called for an apology.

"My concern is that hate crimes will now be publicly met with a level of scepticism," Mr Johnson said, adding that the city had bigger problems.

"I just wish that the families of gun violence victims in this city got this much attention."

Updated: February 22, 2019 09:33 AM

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