Not exactly a surprise given the previous reports that the letter might be part of Smollett’s motive for staging the attack. Still, this ABC News report is more evidence that he is now the focus of the investigation.
The FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service are currently investigating whether Jussie Smollett played a role in sending a threatening letter addressed to him at “Empire’s” Chicago studio prior to the alleged attack, two federal officials confirm to ABC News.
The accusation, made by the two brothers who were persons of interest, has not been confirmed.
So this is another story coming from the Nigerian brothers. They’re saying the hate mail was also part of the hoax and now the feds are looking to either confirm or disprove that.
Yesterday CBS 2 in Chicago reported that the brothers claimed Smollett himself had concocted the street attack after a previous hate mail story didn’t have the impact he was hoping for. That combined with the fact that police had seized stamps and magazines (from which the cut-out letters used to create the hate mail may have come) suggested police were already looking to see if the letter was also part of the hoax. Now we know why they were looking.
Of course, this is all still an ongoing investigation and the brother’s story hasn’t been confirmed yet. But Jussie Smollett is definitely resisting making any more statements to police. CNN reports police want to talk to him but don’t know when or if it will happen:
Chicago detectives want to speak to actor Jussie Smollett — but it’s not clear when, or if, that will happen.
Police want to ask Smollett additional questions about the attack he reported on January 29, but as of Tuesday morning, Smollett’s attorneys had not indicated when their client will be available to talk to police.
Maybe he’s just being prudent or maybe he realizes he’s facing some serious repercussions from a stunt he initiated. As I noted earlier, there’s also a report that he may be hiring a big-time defense attorney. Variety has a report today on Jussie’s future if it turns out he staged this crime:
If Smollett falsified a police report, the charge is a Class 4 felony in Illinois, and carries a potential sentence of one to three years in prison. Smollett could also be ordered to pay restitution to compensate for the cost of the Chicago Police Department investigation.
“It’s a very, very, very serious situation,” said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor who now works in criminal defense in Chicago. “He’s got some very significant exposure.”…
Steve Greenberg, a Chicago defense attorney, said prosecutors could also file a charge of obstruction of justice. He said it was likely, though, that Smollett would be allowed to plead to a misdemeanor, and not serve jail time.
“They’re not going to ruin a guy’s life over this,” Greenberg said. “People make false reports all the time to the police. They get in a DUI, they call police and say, ‘My car was stolen.’ Ninety percent of the time, even if they’re charged with a felony, those people end up pleading to a misdemeanor.”
As if on cue, NBC 5 in Chicago reports that Smollett previously pleaded no contest to a charge of providing false information to police in a case that involved a DUI.
It was revealed Tuesday that in 2007 Smollett pleaded no contest to DUI, driving without a license and providing false information to law enforcement, the L.A. City Attorney’s office confirmed to NBC News.
Smollett, now 36, was sentenced to two years probation and a choice of a fine or jail in the 2007 case, an L.A. City Attorney’s spokesman told NBC News.
That’s certainly not going to help his credibility and may make it less likely prosecutors are willing to knock down a potential charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
But Smollett’s life is obviously about more than staying out of jail. His scenes on Empire are already being cut as a result of the investigation. If he eventually confesses to setting this up, would Fox allow him to keep his job? On the plus side, there’s certainly a lot of free publicity to be had from this story. On the other hand, I’m not sure an attempt to smear 40+% of the country is the kind of thing that Fox wants to be associated with. Granted it’s entirely possible the fans of Empire wouldn’t care but the fans of other Fox shows might. Keeping Smollett around (if the worst turns out to be true) seems like a big risk for a big broadcasting company to take.