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Foxx requests Cook County IG investigation into handling of Jussie Smollett case

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after R. Kelly was ordered held on a $1 million bond in the R&B star's first court appearance following his arrest on charges he sexually abused four people, including three underage girls, Saturday afternoon, Feb. 23, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has asked Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard to review her office’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case.

The request for an investigation by the county’s watchdog agency comes two weeks after Foxx’s office dropped all charges against the “Empire” actor for an alleged hoax hate crime attack, with the actor turning over $10,000 from his bond to the city and making no admission of guilt. The deal, and Foxx, have been blasted by police and prosecutors organizations, and a petitions seeking appointment of a special prosecutor to review Smollett’s case will be heard by Chief Criminal Courts Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. next month.

Foxx has promised “total access” to her office to probe the Smollett case, Blanchard said Friday.

“There are to be no restrictions to the work of (the Inspector General’s) office, within the scope of our review,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard worked in the state’s attorney’s office for 14 years, ending his tenure in 2008 under Foxx’s predecessor, Anita Alvarez, as head of the Special Litigation Bureau.

“Ensuring that I and my office have the community’s trust and confidence is paramount to me, which is why I invited an independent review of this matter,” Foxx said Friday in a statement. “I welcome this investigation and pledge my full cooperation and the cooperation of my office as IG Blanchard conducts his review.”

In a letter to members of Cook County Board of Commissioners, and Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Blanchard said his office would open an investigation, noting that the state’s attorney, in the past, had objected to oversight from the OIIG on unrelated other issues.

“State’s Attorney Foxx has stated her office will cooperate during the course of this review, notwithstanding prior objections to OIIG jurisdiction,” Blanchard wrote in the letter dated Wednesday.

On Thursday, the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Smollett, claiming the actor owes the city more than $130,000 to cover police overtime costs incurred while they investigated the alleged phony crime.

Last week, a former assistant prosecutor in Foxx’s office and former state Appellate Court Judge Sheila O’Brien filed separate petitions to have a special prosecutor appointed to review Smollett’s case. O’Brien also has asked that a judge from outside Cook County be assigned to decide whether to appoint the special prosecutor.

Foxx and her chief deputy initially said Smollett’s deal was similar to deferred prosecution agreements the office has promoted for non-violent offenders, but controversy has swirled around the decision.

Days later, Foxx would shift and cite concerns about whether the evidence was strong enough to win a conviction against the actor. Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson insisted in interviews that the department was not consulted about the decision to dismiss the counts, and that police had gathered ample evidence to prove the actor had coordinated the attack with brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, bodybuilders who had worked as extras on “Empire.”

In the sub-zero early morning hours of Jan. 29, Smollett said he was walking to his Streeterville apartment when he was accosted by two masked men who taunted Smollett, who is black and openly gay, with racist and homophobic slurs as he grappled with them. The men put a thin rope noose around his neck and squirted him with bleach.

Skeptical analysis of his claims became so widespread on the internet that Smollett tearfully decried “haters” in an interview on “Good Morning America.” Police assembled a video timeline from surveillance cameras in the area, and were able to track the brothers as they purchased the rope and arrived and left the scene— though no camera captured the attack itself— and the pair were arrested at O’Hare Airport as they returned from a two-week trip to Nigeria.

After 47 hours in police custody, the brothers confessed to police that they had been paid $3,500 by Smollett to fake the attack, though Smollett has said he’d given them a check to pay for personal training sessions and nutritional supplements. At Smollett’s bond hearing, prosecutors said Smollett had purchased drugs from the brothers in the past, which Smollett’s lawyers have said was the explanation for cryptic emails he exchanged with the pair in the days before the attack.

Adding a layer of intrigue to Smollett’s case was Foxx’s decision to recuse herself from the case shortly before Smollett was charged. Emails and text messages turned over to the Chicago Sun-Times, in response to a records request, showed that weeks before Smollett was charged, and when the actor was considered by police to be a crime victim, Foxx had talked to both Chicago lawyer Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, and a relative of Smollett’s. Foxx’s recusal meant her top deputy, Joseph Magats, was left in charge of final decisions. But her handling of the recusal and the decision to drop charges against Smollett drew swift condemnation from a state and national association for line prosecutors.

The messages showed that Foxx called Johnson and urged him to turn over the investigation of Smollett’s attack to the FBI. Foxx has said she was concerned about leaked information about the case from unidentified law enforcement sources, and believed the federal investigators would keep a tighter lid on information.