Jussie Smollett’s role on Empire hangs in the balance of the ongoing criminal investigation into his alleged staging of an attack that was initially investigated as a hate crime. New wrinkles in the case are emerging, particularly regarding the Chicago PD’s revelation of a $3,500 check that police say Smollett used to enlist two Nigerian brothers, who were Empire extras, to fake the physical assault. However, Smollett’s team claims that this document doesn’t show that he hired the brothers to physically attack him but, instead, to physically train him (i.e., help him lose 20 pounds) for a music video shoot.
Yes, this case is growing even more nebulous after people were incredulous (and rolling with laughter) that Smollett would use such an easily traceable method to pay the brothers. TMZ claims to have receipts, though, in the form of the purported check and texts. According to the memo line on the check, the fee was for “5 week Nutrition/Workout program Don’t Go.” As for the texts, TMZ describes them and a Venmo payment:
On January 28 — the day before the “attack” — Bon wrote, “I know you’re traveling today, make sure you get at least 45 mins of cardio.” Another text on January 20 outlines a menu for the day, including chicken thigh, StarKist Tuna, Eggs and Smucker’s peanut butter. And, a text on January 25 reads, “This is the meal plan and the breakdown of macronutrients. Also includes projected fat loss.”
You also see a text showing a calendar where February 23 is marked “Don’t Go.” The sources say that’s the date of the music video shoot. There’s another screenshot from Sept. 27, 2018, presumably showing Jussie has paid Ola in the past. It’s a Venmo payment of $100 to Bola (Abimbola aka Abel) for “Training.”
ABC News has also published a copy of the purported check, which of course would not disprove the allegations against Smollett but could create reasonable doubt for a jury to take his side. TMZ further notes word from FBI sources that they haven’t yet determined who wrote the threatening letter sent to the Empire set a week prior to the alleged attack, even though the Chicago PD declared that Smollett sent the document to himself.
Over the weekend, Empire co-star Terrence Howard came forward to support the embattled actor, but the Chicago PD is standing firm. On Monday morning, Superintendent Eddie Johnson visited GMA, where he told Robin Roberts that law enforcement has more evidence (that hasn’t been revealed) to convict Smollett of disorderly conduct (filing a false report):
“[Smollett] still has a presumption of innocence and he still has his opportunity in court if he chooses to go that route. There’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet that doesn’t support the version that he gave us. There’s still a lot of video evidence, physical evidence and testimony that doesn’t support what he said happened.”
Watch the full GMA interview with Johnson below.