Police think Jussie Smollet paid two bodybuilder brothers to orchestrate the attack in which he said he was beaten, soaked in bleach and had a rope placed around his neck, CNN reported Saturday.
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” Chicago Police Department chief communications officer Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
The two brothers identified by CBS as Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo — though police did not release their names — were questioned this week as “potential suspects” then released without charges “due to new evidence” on Friday. CNN cited two law enforcement sources, who said the two men are now cooperating fully with law enforcement.
In a statement Saturday night, attorneys for Jussie Smollett strongly denied that the “Empire” star faked the attack he reported on Jan. 29, and said “anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, said in their statement that the actor “has been further victimized” by these claims, and identified one of the men police arrested, then released without charges on Friday, as Smollett’s personal trainer.
The trainer, who was unnamed in the statement, was preparing Smollett for a music video, the statement said. “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,” the statement continues.
Here’s the full statement:
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. 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. 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.
Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate. At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to “unnamed” sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.
CNN’s sources said records show that the two brothers, whom TheWrap confirmed with police are of Nigerian descent, purchased the rope at an Ace Hardware store in Chicago.
The actor has pushed back on past speculation, shared on social media, that the attack was a hoax. In an interview with “Good Morning America” this week, he said people would be more likely to believe him if he had said his attackers were Muslim, Mexican or black.
An attorney for the two men, Gloria Schmidt, did not respond to requests for comment.
But the Chicago Tribune reported Schmidt has previously said that the two brothers have worked with Smollett on “Empire” and work out at the same gym as the actor. Smollett follows their bodybuilding page (@team_abel) on Instagram.
Smollett was hospitalized on Jan. 29, and reported to police that he was assaulted near his Chicago home by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs and referenced “MAGA.” According to a police statement, the actor reported that he was battered “about the face,” that “an unknown chemical substance” was poured on him, and that the attackers wrapped a rope around his neck. The substance turned out to be bleach.
On Saturday morning, a rep for Smollett denied reports that the actor had hired defense attorney Michael D. Monico. Monico, who is currently on Michael Cohen’s defense team, had said Thursday on WGN’s “The Roy Conn Show” that Smollett was his client “at the moment.”
Monico declined to comment when contacted by TheWrap Saturday about whether he repped Smollett.
A Fox representative declined comment Saturday.