City leaders are demanding that Empire star Jussie Smollett pay back at least $130,000 for the police investigation into his claims of a racial attack or they will go after him for making false statements that could carry even heftier penalties, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and municipal attorneys said Thursday.
Chicago’s Department of Law sent Smollett a letter threatening that if the $130,000 “is not timely paid,” the city will go after him in court for making false statements, thus allowing them to collect more money from him under the municipal code.
According to the letter, violation of the false statement ordinance allows the city to collect up to three times the amount of damages the city sustains as a result of the violation – in Smollett’s case, that would be $390,000.
Emanuel said police department officials are still assembling the costs of the investigation that began shortly after Smollett reported to police on Jan. 29 that he was the victim of a brutal attack by assailants who yelled racial and homophobic slurs as they beat him. The actor also told police that the assailants yelled “This is MAGA country” during the assault.
Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. But the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office abruptly announced on Tuesday that it was dropping its 16 count indictment against Smollett. As part of the deal, Smollett agreed to forfeit $10,000 in bond money he put up to secure his release from county jail after he was arrested last month.
“When (Smollett) does pay the city back on just what the taxpayers have fronted, in that memo section (of the check), he can write, ‘I’m sorry and I’m accountable for what I’ve done,’” Emanuel said.
The amount that the city is trying to claw back represents how much the police department spent on overtime costs for officers detailed to the case.
“The Chicago Police Department conducted an extensive investigation into this report,” Chicago corporation counsel Ed Siskel says in the letter sent to the Smollett legal team. “Over two dozen detectives and police officers participated in the investigation, ultimately spending weeks investigating the false claims, including a substantial number of overtime hours.”
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said the false statements clause of the municipal code has been used before to collect from people who have wasted police time by lying.
“The city has a lengthy and successful history of recovering costs under this ‘false statement’ ordinance,” McCaffrey said. “For example, the city recovered from a doctor who stabbed himself and then filed a false police report about being attacked and mugged along the river front in 2011.”
Also, he said, the city uses the ordinance when businesses provide false information on applications for grants, such as lying about whether the business is owned by a member of a “disadvantaged” group – a white-owned business applying for special grants by claiming to be owned by African Americans.
Smollett’s legal team pushed back against the city’s assertion that the actor should pay for the probe.
“It is the Mayor and the Police Chief who owe Jussie – owe him an apology – for dragging an innocent man’s character through the mud. Jussie has paid enough,” the legal team said in a statement.
Smollett was classified as a victim by police for several weeks after the incident. Police eventually identified two men – brothers who had worked with Smollett on the set of “Empire” – that carried out the attack.
The brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, initially resisted speaking with investigators, but on the cusp of being charged in the incident, told investigators that they worked with Smollett to stage the attack.
The brothers told detectives that Smollett was unhappy with his salary on the Fox television show and was hoping to bolster his profile through the attack, according to Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Police and prosecutors said the brothers’ accounts were bolstered by bank records, phone records, text messages, and other evidence recovered.
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SOURCE: USA Today – Aamer Madhani