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Man arrested in Smollett attack convicted in 2011 stabbing, filed for bankruptcy

Jussie Smollett

Actor Jussie Smollett in 2017. | AP file photo

The two men taken into custody in connection with the reported attack of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett were placed under arrest Friday, a Chicago police spokesman said.

UPDATE: Men arrested in Smollet attack released from custody, no charges filed

The two men, ages 25 and 27, were still being questioned by detectives and had not been formally charged as of Friday evening, department spokesman Tom Ahern said.

Earlier in the day, Anthony Guglielmi, another police spokesman, said: “Detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime, and we are working to corroborate the allegations and investigative timeline as our investigation continues.”

Detectives believe the men, both of whom are black, are the same people shown in a surveillance image released by police days after the purported attack, Guglielmi has said. The men allegedly yelled racial and homophobic slurs during the incident, which had been investigated as a possible hate crime police have said.

The men’s identities have not been released.

But a law enforcement source said the men are brothers and at least one of them has worked on the show “Empire.” They are reportedly Nigerian and had traveled to Nigeria the day of the attack before returning Wednesday, when they were arrested at O’Hare Airport, a source said.

2011 arrest for attempted murder

Court records show that one was charged with attempted murder in a 2011 stabbing that occurred in the 4200 block of North Ashland. That is less than a block from the home that police raided Wednesday night and recovered personal effects, including cell phones, a source said.

The one brother reached a plea deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to aggravated battery; he was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $674 fine. His attorney in that case did not respond to interview requests.

Another attorney for the men, Gloria Schmidt, has told reporters the men knew Smollett.

“The have worked with him on ‘Empire,'” she told CBS2.  “… They’re baffled why they are people of interest.”

A North Side home was searched by police in connection with an investigation of an attack on actor Jussie Smollet. | Sun-Times/Nader Issa

A North Side home was searched by police in connection with an investigation of an attack on actor Jussie Smollett. | Sun-Times/Nader Issa

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that police are investigating the possibility the reported Jan. 29 attack was staged. However, on Friday, Guglielmi again stressed “there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax.”

“The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect,” he said of Smollett.

Smollett has told police that he was walking in the 300 block of East North Water Street about 2 a.m. when two people walked up to him, yelled the slurs, hit him in the face, poured a substance — suspected to be bleach — on him and put a “thin, light rope” around his neck.

The actor initially was “reluctant” to call police because of the attention he would generate as a public figure, Guglielmi previously said. But his manager eventually called at 2:42 a.m., about 40 minutes after the attack.

The actor said he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack. His manager has said he could hear the attack over the phone and was able to hear the phrase “MAGA country” — the acronym from President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Detectives allegedly traced the location of the men arrested through ride-hailing and taxi records from the area where Smollett said the attack happened, according to a law enforcement source. Police have video from a doorbell camera, among other images of the men.

Both played football

Both men, who are two of five siblings, previously played college football. At least one of them went to high school near the home police raided, according to the college website.

Court records show both men filed for bankruptcy in September 2016 and owed more than $120,000 in student loans.

At the time, neither man reported having a full-time job. Their monthly incomes, they said, were $160 and $142, which they earned from various odd jobs.

The two also started a party and decoration business in 2015 that they operated out of a South Side building owned by their parents, records show. Their parents did not respond to phone calls Friday.

The business was “operating at a loss” at the time of the filing and was dissolved in May 2018, court and state business records show.

One of the two men showed an interest in investing. He reported that he owned four shares of a pharmaceutical company, one share of Berkshire Hathaway and one share of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company. He valued the shares at $300 at the time, though a single share of Berkshire Hathaway was worth more than $200,000 at the time of the bankruptcy filing.

In 2017, one of the men co-founded a home remodeling company. In his bio on the company’s website, he says he has three degrees, including a master’s degree in business and a bachelor’s degree in management. The other company co-founder could not be reached Friday.

‘Good human beings’

A trainer at the brothers’ North Side gym said the men have been among the most polite gym guests in the two years he’s known them.

“They’ve never shown anything other than being good human beings,” the trainer said.

The trainer — who asked to only be identified by his first name, Danny — said the aspiring actors are former bodyguards, and one is an amateur boxer.

Contributing: Matt Hendrickson, Nader Issa and Frank Main