“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been indicted on 16 counts of filing a false police report, stemming from his alleged staging of a Jan. 29 hate attack, Variety has confirmed.
Smollett had previously been charged with a single count of filing a false police report, which carries the possibility of up to three years in prison.
A Cook County grand jury returned a more thorough indictment on Friday. Eight of the charges involve false statements given to Officer Muhammed Baig, while the other eight pertain to a more detailed account given to Det. Kim Murray.
Smollett told the police that he was assaulted at 2 a.m. by two men who shouted homophobic and racial slurs and put a noose around his neck. In the more detailed account, he claimed that he fought back, and that one of the attackers was white, according to prosecutors.
“Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission there was no reasonable ground for believing that such an offense had been committed,” the indictment states.
The new counts likely will not have much effect on Smollett’s ultimate sentence, should he be convicted, said Andrew Weisberg, a former Cook County prosecutor now in private practice. The charges would run concurrently, so the sentencing range would still be one to three years in prison. However, most defendants in Smollett’s situation are sentenced to probation.
“I would still expect a period of probation, a psychological evaluation and restitution to cover costs of the investigation,” Weisberg told Variety. “I would still be surprised if he goes to prison.”
Police have alleged that Smollett paid the two men $3,500 to stage the attack. In a statement last month, officials said they had traced the two attackers using taxi and rideshare records, phone records, and surveillance cameras. They identified the men as Abel and Ola Osundairo, both of whom had worked on “Empire.” The two brothers were arrested at Chicago O’Hare Airport and ultimately agreed to cooperate and testify to the grand jury.
Smollett denies the allegations. He has been written off of the last two episodes of this season of “Empire.”
Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, called the charges “overkill” on Friday, and blasted the department for leaking information about the case to the media.
“The fact of an indictment was not unexpected,” Geragos said. “We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination. What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie. 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. Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”