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By Doha Madani
“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been indicted by a grand jury in Chicago on 16 felony counts after allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime, NBC News confirmed Friday.
Smollett was charged last month with felony disorderly conduct for the alleged false report he made with Chicago police on Jan. 29, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. In it he claimed he was assaulted by two masked men who hurled racist and homophobic slurs.
Smollett was charged by a grand jury of 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report, according to a criminal complaint.
Smollett and his attorneys have denied the allegations against him. Mark Geragos, who represents Smollett, said in a statement to NBC News on Friday that the indictment was “the prosecutorial overkill.”
“This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie’s privacy in tampering with his medical records,” Geragos said.
Police said Thursday they are looking for people within the department who may have leaked investigation details to the press prior to Smollett’s arrest.
Smollett, 36, who is black and gay, said his attackers poured what he believed was bleach over him and put a noose around his neck. Authorities then began to investigate the case a potential hate crime.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told NBC News at the time of his arrest in late February that the investigation into the alleged attack demanded “considerable” police resources. He said that at one point the department had 12 detectives scouring surveillance videos.
Some social media users began to cast doubt on Smollett’s claims after police said they were not able to find footage of the alleged attack after going through a voluminous amount of recordings from the many surveillance cameras in the area.
Police also had said Smollett refused to turn over his phone and phone records for the investigation. The actor had told police he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack.
Police have said, however, that Smollett was cooperating with the investigation, and later gave investigators a PDF file with partial phone records.
Guglielmi said on Feb. 16 that the investigation shifted after questioning two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, who were potential persons of interest in the case.
Just days later, Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct for the alleged false report.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said after Smollett’s arrest that the actor “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
Johnson claimed that Smollett was unhappy with his salary on Fox’s “Empire” and Smollett sent himself a letter containing racist language, and when that did not work, he paid $3,500 to orchestrate the attack.
Fox had no comment on Smollett’s indictment in response to NBC News’ inquiry Friday.
The top prosecutor in the Chicago area, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, recused herself from the case in February because she had had “conversations with a family member of Jussie Smollett about the incident and their concerns, and facilitated a connection to the Chicago Police Department,” a spokesperson for the office said.