'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett hit with 16 count felony indictment by grand jury
A Chicago grand jury charged actor Jussie Smollett with 16 felony counts for falsely reporting a hate crime. Smollett was charged last month with a felony charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly making up the hate crime. Smollett has insisted he is innocent.
The grand jury returned the indictment on Thursday, CBS Chicago reported. Each one of the charges carries a maximum count of four years in prison, meaning he could face 64 years in total.
The 36-year-old actor, who is black and openly gay, plays Jamal Lyon on Fox's hit TV show, "Empire," a drama that chronicles a family-run record label. He told police he was attacked by two masked men when he was returning home from a Subway sandwich store Jan. 29 around 2 a.m.
Smollett claimed the two men had beat him, said homophobic and racial slurs and put a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said he heard, "this is MAGA country," an apparent reference to President Trump's campaign slogan.
Police arrested two brothers who they initially linked to the alleged attack. But police said the brothers then said Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack. Police said they told them the rope that was found around Smollett's neck was purchased at a nearby hardware store. A raid of their home turned up ropes, masks and bleach.
Police said the two brothers wore gloves during the staged attack and did punch Smollett, but the scratches and bruises on Smollett's face most likely were self-inflicted, CBS Chicago reported.
Sources told CBS Chicago that Smollett was angry that he did not receive a "bigger response" from a threatening letter sent to "Empire." The letter, later published by TMZ, contained a homophobic death threat against Smollett spelled out in cut-up letters. The envelope reads "MAGA," an apparent reference to President Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
But police later alleged Smollett sent that letter. Smollett turned himself in on Feb. 21 and was released hours later after posting $10,000 bond.
On Feb. 22, the television show "Empire" said Smollett would be written out of the last two episodes of the season, which still had yet to be filmed. On Friday, 20th Century Fox said the studio and the network had no comment.