Prosecutors: Smollett paid brothers $3,500 for staged attack
CHICAGO (AP) — Two brothers who told police that Jussie Smollett paid them $3,500 to help stage an attack on himself were linked to the actor through the “Empire” television series, and court documents filed Thursday allege one of the men provided Smollett with designer drugs.
Smollett appeared in court for a bond hearing one day after prosecutors charged him with a felony for allegedly concocting a story about being attacked by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with a chemical and draped a noose around his neck.
In a four-page court document laying out the allegations against Smollett, prosecutors allege Smollett hired the brothers, Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, to buy masks and a rope — transactions recorded on surveillance video. As for the alleged attack, the actor instructed Abel Osundairo to “not hurt him too badly and give him a chance to appear to fight back,” according to the filing.
The Osundairos, who are of Nigerian descent, have said they were born and raised in Chicago.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Thursday that investigators reviewed extensive phone records between Smollett and the brothers, including calls from when the brothers were in Nigeria after the allegedly staged attack.
Gloria Schmidt, an attorney for the brothers, spoke to reporters Wednesday outside a Chicago courthouse where they met with the grand jury, which was collecting evidence in the case. Schmidt said the two men wanted to come clean and weren’t motivated by any promises from prosecutors.
“There was never a change of heart,” Schmidt said. “There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said, ‘We’re gonna correct this.’ Plea deal, immunity, all of that — they don’t care about that.”
Prosecutors said Smollett’s friendship with Abel Osundairo dates to fall 2017. He had served as a stand-in for a character named “Kai”, who is Smollett’s love interest on “Empire.” Osundairo’s brother also appeared as an extra in the show, according to the court document.
Citing text messages between Smollett and Abel Osundairo, who also exercised and socialized together, prosecutors say Smollett had requested that his friend provide him with the drug ecstasy.
Attorneys for Smollett and Abimbola Osundairo didn’t immediately respond to messages The Associated Press left Thursday evening seeking comment about that claim.
The brothers are bodybuilders who have developed an online following and have dabbled in acting and at least one failed business venture, according to social media posts and news reports.
Abimbola Osundairo, 25, graduated from Lake View High School in Chicago, where he participated in football, track and field, soccer, and wrestling, before joining the football team at Quincy University in western Illinois, according to a football profile on the university’s website. Olabinjo Osundairo, 27, also was on the Quincy football team and had attended Latmos Comprehensive College in Lagos, Nigeria, according to his football profile.
Smollett said he was attacked by two masked men in downtown Chicago early on Jan. 29. He also said they yelled, “This is MAGA country” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Chicago police said they reviewed video of Smollett walking downtown but found nothing showing an attack. They released images of two people, later identified as the brothers, whom they called “persons of interest” in the case because they were in the area at the time.
The Osundairos were arrested on Feb. 13 at O’Hare International Airport after returning from Nigeria when police learned at least one of them worked on “Empire.” Police said they left for Nigeria on the day of the attack. Police released them after two days, saying the “investigation had shifted” following interviews with the brothers.
A man identified on some videos as the Osundairos’ business partner, Leland Stanford, did not respond Wednesday to a Facebook message. The Osundairos did not respond to a message on their “Team Abel” Facebook page or to an email posted on their YouTube page, and a voice message left at a phone number listed for their father also was not returned.
Smollett’s lawyers had said the actor was angered and “victimized” by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.
“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,” the weekend statement read, adding that one of the brothers was Smollett’s personal trainer.
The Osundairos, who promote a fitness and diet program under the title “Team Abel,” have more than 20,000 Instagram followers and more than 1,600 followers on Facebook. They also have a “Team Abel” YouTube channel.
The Chicago Tribune reported that neither brother has been credited for work on “Empire,” though the older brother said in a 2015 interview that he played the prison bodyguard for Chris Rock’s character. Rock guest-starred on the show’s second season premiere in 2015.
The newspaper also reported that the brothers signed in 2016 with Hinsdale, Illinois-based Babes ’N Beaus Model and Talent Agency, according to one of the owners, Don Underwood.
Each appeared on an episode of NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” last year, and both had roles in the 2017 independent movie “The Worst Nightmare,” the Tribune reported. One had a small part in Spike Lee’s 2015 film, “Chi-Raq.”
State records showed the Osundairos established a party and decoration store in 2015 that was dissolved last year, the Tribune reported. Federal court records show they filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and their store “operating at a loss.”
The newspaper reported that the older brother pleaded guilty in 2012 to aggravated battery and was sentenced to two years of probation for a stabbing that occurred a year earlier about a block away from the brothers’ home, according to Cook County records. His brother was ticketed for a DUI in 2015.
Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.