In a defiant letter to the City Law Department, attorneys for Jussie Smollett said the “Empire” actor would not pay the $130,000 tab for the Chicago police’s investigation of his alleged hate crime hoax attack, and said they intend to demand testimony from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Supt. Eddie Johnson if the city files a lawsuit to collect.
The law department last week sent Smollett a letter seeking $130,106.15 from the actor for allegedly making a false report to police about an attack in Streeterville — a move that came after Cook County prosecutors abruptly dropped the criminal case against Smollett.
On Thursday, Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said city attorneys are drafting the civil complaint that will be filed “in the near future” to recoup the money in overtime hours paid out over the course of the investigation.
City officials cited a city ordinance that has been used against others who made false police reports or won city contracts based on false representations, but Smollett’s Los Angeles-based attorney, Mark Geragos, said the threatened litigation to collect the money is part of a campaign by the city to “harass and irreparably injure Mr. Smollett.”
“Your letter is both factually and legally flawed, and Mr. Smollett will not be intimidated into paying the demanded sum,” Geragos wrote.
Geragos’ letter suggests that the city is using the ordinance violation to pursue Smollett in order to get a “second bite of the apple once charges against a criminal defendant have been dismissed.”
If the city were to pursue Smollett in court, Geragos said he would have Emanuel and Johnson, as well as Smollett’s alleged attackers/co-conspirators in the hoax, brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, and their lawyers, for sworn testimony.
“In light of their apparent vested interest in this case, we are confident that Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent Johnson will not object to providing their testimony under oath,” Geragos wrote. “Mr. Smollett’s preference remains, however, that this matter be closed and he be allowed to move on with his life.”
A spokesman for Smollett’s legal team declined comment on the letter, as did McCaffrey.
Geragos’ letter also briefly hints at flaws in the evidence against the Smollett, claiming that investigators did not attempt to verify statements from the Osundairo brothers.
When Smollett’s 16 counts of disorderly conduct charges were dropped, he agreed to forfeit the $10,000 he had posted toward his bond, but made no admission of guilt. He later proclaimed his innocence to reporters before leaving the courthouse.
In the days immediately after the hearing, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her top deputy, Joseph Magats, said they believed police investigators had done a thorough investigation and that the case against Smollett was strong. But in an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune days after Foxx said that prosecutors were concerned about their odds of winning the case at trial.
Two local attorneys have since petitioned the chief judge of the Criminal Division, LeRoy Martin Jr., to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue charges against Smollett and investigate the handling of the case by Foxx’s office.
Foxx recused herself from the case about a week before Smollett was charged. A week later, she publicly announced she was stepping aside because she had communicated with a relative of the actor about the case. Magats was given final authority over the investigation.
Text messages showed that Foxx also talked about the case with attorney Tina Tchen, a major Democratic fundraiser and former chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, and also discussed with Johnson having CPD step aside and allowing the FBI to conduct the Smollett investigation.
Saani Mohammed, a former Cook County prosecutor who left the office for private practice just three weeks ago, filed a petition Thursday asking Martin to appoint a someone to both prosecute charges against Smollett and “investigate whether (Foxx), and any of her subordinates, intentionally acted to conceal evidence, interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Smollett, or misled the public regarding the case.”
On Friday, former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Sheila O’Brien filed a petition with Martin as well, stating Foxx’s handling of the case was “plagued with irregularity.”
“Foxx’s conflict in this matter is beyond dispute,” O’Brien wrote, adding that Foxx should have sought appointment of a special prosecutor because of her communication with Smollett’s relative, Tchen and Johnson.
“Instead, Foxx misled the public into believing that Smollett’s case was handled like any other prosecution and without influence.”