It is now one of the biggest stories in the United States, the story of two Nigerian brothers, an African-American actor and a fake assault the actor allegedly sponsored to draw sympathy from his fans or the film industry.
The two Nigerian brothers, Olabingo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, have reportedly told law enforcement officers that actor Jussie Smollett paid them to stage a hate hoax on January 29, 2019.
He reportedly paid them $3500 to fake an attack on him while masked and wrap a rope around his neck.
This was reportedly to save his career as his contact might have been on the brink of being terminated.
Smollett’s assault was initially reported as a hate crime involving two men who attacked him on a street near his Chicago apartment and spewed racist and homophobic taunts.
They also kicked and punched him, placed a rope around his neck, doused him with a chemical and said he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” catchphrase.
But the Chicago police pieced together surveillance video to identify the Osundairo brothers and invited them for questioning last week after they returned from a trip to Nigeria.
The brothers were released without charges Friday, and police then said they wanted to speak with Smollett again because the focus of the probe had “shifted.”
On Tuesday, the two Nigerian brothers met with prosecutors in a grand jury room and reportedly told them they were paid by the actor to stage an attack on him.
But in a statement over the weekend, Smollett’s lawyers Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said their client vehemently denied any role in the attack.
“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,” the statement said.
“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,” it read.
The lawyers said Smollett knows the brothers because one worked as his personal trainer while the other, Ola Osundairo, had a small role playing a prison inmate in an early episode of “Empire.”
The meeting with prosecutors came even as federal investigators reportedly questioned whether the actor sent a prior threatening letter to himself on January 22.
“The latest developments in the bizarre saga came after reports surfaced Tuesday morning that several Smollett scenes not yet filmed for the Fox drama “Empire” were cut this week amid the ongoing controversy,” New York Daily News reported.
“Chicago police, meanwhile, said a review of video surveillance did not support a tip Smollett was seen with the brothers inside his building the night of his alleged attack,” the newspaper said.
It quoted a new report from ABC News published Tuesday, as saying that sources said the brothers also told investigators Smollett was behind the threatening letter sent to his attention at the studio where “Empire” is filmed in Chicago.
“The letter, first obtained by ThatGrapeJuice.net, featured “MAGA” scrawled in red marker on the envelope and an ominous warning inside strung together with letters cut from magazines,” New York Daily News said.
“Smollett Jussie you will die black f–,” read the note, which also included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree next to a gun.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is now assisting the FBI in investigating who sent the letter on Jan. 22, sources confirmed to the Daily News.
The letter is at an FBI crime lab for analysis, ABC News reported.￼
“Sources told CBS 2 in Chicago and ABC Newsthat after interviewing the brothers last week, police began pursuing leads that Smollett paid the men to stage his attack because he was upset the threatening letter didn’t generate more outrage and attention,” The Daily News said.
Unidentified sources told both Deadline.comand TMZ.com that writers scrambled to cut Smollett from multiple scenes still in production as questions mounted, the newspaper added.
Smollett, 36, was due to have nine scenes and a big musical number in the second-to-last episode, but five of the scenes were ditched and the musical number was cut, sources told TMZ.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the reported changes were due to Smollett’s voluntary absence from the set or because producers were worried about growing speculation he lied.