Chicago police detectives are pursuing information that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett may have paid two brothers he worked with on the show to stage his attack, a law enforcement source told the Chicago Sun-Times Saturday.
Detectives have asked to speak with Smollett again after receiving “new information” from questioning the men. The brothers were released from custody Friday night without charges.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi issued a statement Saturday night that said in its entirety: “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Guglielmi would neither confirm nor deny the information the law enforcement source provided to the Sun-Times.
The two men were taken into custody by police Wednesday night at O’Hare Airport after returning from a trip to Nigeria, their attorney Gloria Schmidt told reporters Friday.
The request to interview Smollett was made by detectives through Smollett’s attorneys late Friday night, but detectives had not heard back as of Saturday evening, according to Guglielmi.
“We would like to speak with him to corroborate the new information we received as a result of the interrogations,” Guglielmi said.
Smollett was “angered and devastated” by reports that the two men questioned last week were people he was familiar with, according to a statement sent Saturday by his attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson.
“[Smollett] has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack,” the statement read. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
Pugh and Henderson identified one of the men released Friday as Smollett’s personal trainer and said, “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”
Smollett’s attorneys said Smollett would continue to cooperate with the investigation but declined to respond to statements made by “unnamed” sources inside the investigation.
The brothers, whose names have not been released by police but have been reported by several gossip sites, were questioned by detectives over two days.
After the men’s release Friday, police said they were no longer considered suspects.
Schmidt confirmed the brothers worked with Smollett on “Empire” and said they would eventually “tell their story.”
Asked by reporters Friday if Smollett had “set up” the attack, Schmidt demurred, saying there were “still a lot of moving parts to this” and “I’m not part of Jussie’s defense.”
Smollett has told police he was walking in the 300 block of East North Water Street about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 when two men walked up to him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him in the face, poured a substance — possibly bleach — on him and put a “thin, light rope” around his neck. The incident has been investigated as a hate crime.
The actor said he was reluctant to call police immediately after the attack because of the attention it would receive. Smollett’s manager, who said he was on the phone with the actor at the time of the assault, called authorities 40 minutes later.
On Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that police were investigating the possibility that the attack was staged. At that time, police repeatedly said Smollett was cooperating and was considered a victim.
When the two brothers were taken into custody, detectives believed they were the same men shown in a surveillance image released by police days after the purported attack, Guglielmi said at the time.
Smollett himself denied allegations that the attack was a hoax in an interview broadcast Thursday with anchor Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” and said the attacks on his credibility have been hard to take. He called allegations he was lying “ridiculous.”
The FBI is also investigating a letter sent to Fox and “Empire” offices on Jan. 22 that contained a white, powdery substance and “threatening language” toward Smollett.
Contributing: Frank Main, Sam Charles and Nader Issa