A grand jury returned a six-count felony indictment accusing actor Jussie Smollett of staging a phony hate crime, a special prosecutor announced Tuesday.
Smollett, 37, faces six counts of disorderly conduct, Dan Webb said in a statement.
Smollett, who is black and gay, was originally charged with disorderly conduct last February for allegedly staging the attack and lying about it to investigators. The charges were dropped the following month with little explanation, angering police officials and then-mayor Rahm Emanuel.
He has now charged with making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers related to his account that he was the victim of a hate crime.
Tina Glandian, Smollett’s attorney, did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.
Smollett told police he was walking home early on Jan. 29, 2019, when two masked men approached him, made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said his assailants, at least one of whom he said was white, told him he was in “MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Several weeks later, authorities alleged that Smollett had paid two friends $3,500 US to help him stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary as an actor on Empire and wanted to drum up publicity for his career. He was dropped from the show after the alleged attack.
A judge in August appointed Webb, a former U.S. attorney, as a special prosecutor to look into why the original charges were dropped.
A Cook County grand jury returned the new indictment of Smollett at Webb’s recommendation after nearly a year of investigation by his office.
The probe “revealed that Smollett planned and participated in a staged hate crime attack, and thereafter made numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions, reporting a heinous hate crime that he, in fact, knew had not occurred,” Webb said in a statement released in conjunction with the indictment.
“Therefore, Mr. Webb has determined that reasonable grounds exist to further prosecute Mr. Smollett,” he said.
Webb also was looking into whether calls that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had with a Smollett relative and a former aide of Michelle Obama unduly influenced the decision to drop charges. Foxx recused herself from the case but continued to weigh in.
The city has sued Smollett, seeking reimbursement of more than $130,000 US for overtime paid to officers who were involved in investigating his report. Smollett’s attorneys have said the city should not be allowed to recover costs from Smollett because it accepted $10,000 from the actor “as payment in full in connection with the dismissal of the charges against him.”
Smollett’s case has become an issue in Foxx’s bid for a second term. Her opponents have pointed to the case as indicating she has bad judgment and favours the rich and powerful in deciding who will be prosecuted.
Smollett has continued to insist that he was telling the truth when he reported that he was accosted on the street in January 2019 by two masked men, who he said threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for U.S. President Donald Trump.
The actor sued the city of Chicago in November, accusing municipal officials of maliciously prosecuting him.