Chicago City Hall has made good on its threat to sue actor Jussie Smollett, asserting he owes the city perhaps more than $300,000 for allegedly falsely telling police he was attacked earlier this winter in the city by white supporters of President Donald Trump, allegedly because he is black and gay.
On April 11, the city of Chicago’s Department of Law filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Smollett, accusing the actor of violating city ordinances which give the city legal authority to pursue people in court for knowingly making false statements to police, which the city has said undermines the criminal justice system and wastes taxpayer money.
The lawsuit does not specify how much money the city is demanding Smollett be made to repay, but notes the ordinance gives the city the authority to demand up to three times the amount the city spent investigating the allegedly false claims, as well as court costs and attorney fees.
The city has noted the investigation of Smollett’s case racked up more than $130,000 in police overtime costs alone.
The lawsuit comes days after Smollett, through his attorneys, refused the city’s demand to pay the Chicago Police Department’s overtime wage costs related to his case.
It also comes a little more than two weeks since Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office refused to move ahead with criminal charges against Smollett, instead striking a deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop a 16-count indictment against the actor and did not object to Smollett’s request to seal the case file, shielding it from public view.
While Foxx has said that seal was inadvertent, the case remains inaccessible.
Smollett was charged by a grand jury after police spent days reconstructing and checking Smollett’s story against available surveillance video footage, cell phone records, GPS data, interviews and other evidence.
Smollett, who is black and gay, had a recurring role on the Fox television network series “Empire.” In January, Smollett claimed he was attacked in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood by two white men wearing “Make America Great Again” hats – emblematic of the campaign of President Donald Trump – while walking in pre-dawn hours after purchasing a sandwich at a Subway restaurant. According to Smollett’s claims, his alleged assailants beat him, poured bleach on him and hung a noose around his neck, while shouting racist and homophobic epithets, and yelled “This is MAGA country!” – again a reference to Trump and his political supporters.
Following the alleged incident, Smollett’s story was repeated and amplified around the U.S. and the world, with celebrities and prominent Democratic politicians rushing to express sympathy and deride the perceived bigotry of their political opponents.
However, within days, the narrative turned, as a massive police investigation resulted in the indictment against Smollett instead, accusing him of fabricating a hoax with the aid of two Nigerian brothers with whom Smollett associated, identified in the city’s complaint as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo.
According to police reports and the city’s lawsuit, Smollett hired the Osundairo brothers to orchestrate the attack, writing them a check for $3,500.
The legal complaint outlines numerous text messages, phone calls and face-to-face meetings among the three men, allegedly to orchestrate the hoax.
According to the complaint, police believe Smollett first told Abel “he was unhappy with the way his employers handled a racist and homophobic letter he had allegedly received three days earlier, and, as a result, he wanted to stage an attack where Abel would appear to batter him.” The complaint states Ola was added soon after to the alleged plan to “stage a fake racist and homophobic attack” on Smollett.
Before the evidence uncovered by police could be made public, however, Foxx’s office shocked many when they abruptly dropped charges and allowed the case to be sealed.
The abrupt course change in the prosecution against Smollett enraged Chicago Police brass and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called the decision a “whitewash.” In the days following the dismissal, Emanuel and others refused to rule out legal action against Smollett.
Ultimately, city attorneys sent a letter to Smollett, demanding payment, and threatening legal action if he refused.
Smollett refused, and the city sued, setting the stage for a potential court fight which could publicly air many of the facts in the case, including those Smollett wished to remain sealed.
The city specifically accuses Smollett of violating the city’s False Statements Ordinance. The city also includes a count under its Cost Recovery Ordinance.
In a statement released Thursday after the lawsuit was filed, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Law said: “The Law Department has filed a civil complaint against Mr. Smollett in the Circuit Court of Cook County that pursues the full measure of damages allowed under the false statements ordinance. This follows his refusal to reimburse the City of Chicago for the cost of police overtime spent investigating his false police report on January 29, 2019.
The City of Chicago and Chicago Law Department will not have any further comment at this time.”
Smollett’s lawyers in responding the city’s payment demand have said they believe the city owes Smollett an apology “for dragging an innocent man's character through the mud.”
Smollett’s attorneys have said the payment demand under the ordinances is “factually and legally flawed” and said Smollett “will not be intimidated” into paying.