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Jussie Smollett special prosecutor seeks access to ‘Empire’ star’s Google accounts

A judge signed off on the warrant that seeks all of the actor’s emails, including drafts and deleted messages, his search history and even location data.

Jussie Smollett leaves the Cook County jail after posting bail in February 2019. A special prosecutor investigation reviewing whether he staged a hate crime attack, and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the case, has keyed in on the “Empire” actor’s Google accounts, according to a search warrant filed last month.
“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, center, leaves Cook County jail following his release, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Chicago.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A special prosecutor’s investigation into Jussie Smollett has targeted a trove of digital data from the “Empire” actor’s Google accounts, according to a search warrant issued last month.

The warrant, issued Dec. 6 to the California-based company, seeks virtually all records and data stored in accounts linked to Smollett’s Gmail address, including images and photos, the contents of his email account — including deleted messages and drafts — online chats and location information.

The request spans Nov. 1, 2018 to Nov. 1, 2019 — a time period that extends months before Smollett reported on Jan. 29 that he was the victim of a hate crime attack near his Streeterville home, and months after charges against him for staging the attack were dropped in March.

The warrant complaint was filed by a Chicago Police detective, and was executed the day it was approved by Judge Michael Toomin. Toomin also approved warrants for information linked to the email account of Smollett’s agent, who made the initial call to police about the alleged attack by two men who shouted racist, homophobic slurs and slipped a noose around the actor’s neck.

The existence of the warrant, initially reported by the Chicago Tribune, provides the first details of the investigation launched in August, when Toomin appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as special prosecutor to probe both the alleged fake hate crime and prosecutors’ abrupt decision to drop charges against the actor for making a false claim to authorities.

A weeks-long police investigation last year determined that Smollett had paid two acquaintances to stage the attack, prompting charges against the actor for filing a false police report. Those charges were abruptly dropped by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office just three weeks after Smollett was indicted, raising public outcry and moving a retired judge to petition for appointment of a special prosecutor.

Smollett had pleaded not guilty to the original charges, and his attorneys have emphatically asserted that he had no role in plotting the attack.

The records requested likely have already been turned over by Google, said Richard Kling, a professor at IIT-Kent Law School.

“If it’s a warrant and it’s signed by a judge, it’s been my experience that Google will honor that warrant, and quickly,” Kling said.

A spokesperson for Google could not be reached for comment.

Webb also couldn’t be reached, and Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, did not respond to messages left by the Sun-Times.

A spokeswoman for Foxx declined to comment on whether Webb has demanded similar records from the state’s attorney. Foxx’s calls and text messages with a relative of Smollett’s during the period when police still considered the actor a crime victim — and not a suspected — prompted the State’s Attorney to “recuse” herself from Smollett’s case and delegate the case to her top deputy just weeks before Smollett was indicted.

The warrant seeks, among other information, “contents of any and all communication or contact, including ... unread, deleted, chats, instant messages, public or private messages” and “all location data” including GPS data.

The warrant complaint states that Smollett paid brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who worked as extras on “Empire” and served as his personal trainers, to stage the hate crime attack. The brothers, who cooperated with the police investigation and provided testimony that led to the initial charges against Smollett, also provided their phones and text message exchanges that they claim showed the actor plotting the attack with them.

The complaint also says that Smollett told the brothers his manager would help plan the attack. After calling police, the manager brought officers up to Smollett’s apartment and was there when the actor first talked to police while still wearing the clothesline noose around his neck.

It is not clear why CPD investigators had not sought a warrant to get the same records from Google last year, before they closed out their investigation of Smollett. The warrant complaint also notes that “warrants to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook” also showed Smollett’s accounts for those social media platforms also listed the actor’s same Gmail address, though it is not clear when warrants for that information was issued.

Contributing: Jake Wittich