“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Thursday to a 16-count indictment accusing him of orchestrating a fake hate crime.
Smollett appeared in court in Chicago to answer the indictment, which a grand jury returned last Friday. If convicted, the “Empire” star could face three years in prison, though it is also possible he would be sentenced to probation.
Smollett is accused of staging an attack on himself on Jan. 29. He told police that two men attacked him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. Police were able to track the two men using surveillance images and taxi and rideshare records.
According to prosecutors, the two men were Abel and Ola Osundairo, who both worked on “Empire.” Prosecutors allege that Smollett paid the men $3,500 to stage the attack, in an apparent bid for sympathy. Police also believe he was seeking a bigger payday on “Empire.” He is accused of filing a false police report.
Smollett has been suspended from the show and was written out of the final two episodes of this season. A decision on whether he will remain with the show beyond that has not been made.
Smollett has denied the allegations, and his attorney Mark Geragos described the 16-count indictment as “overkill.”