US

Nigerian Brothers Accused of Helping Jussie Smollett Stage Attack Speak Out

By Zachary Stieber

The Nigerian brothers who were arrested on suspicion of attacking “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago and were later released after reportedly informing detectives Smollett paid them to stage the attack spoke out for the first time.

Ola and Abel Asundairo knew Smollett, with one of the brothers being hired as his personal trainer, Smollett confirmed in a statement released by his lawyers.

Smollett has maintained his innocence and his lawyers said that it would be “impossible” to believe that the Asundairos had anything to do with the alleged attack. He initially blamed the attack on supporters of President Donald Trump.

The brothers said in a joint statement to CBS Chicago on Feb. 18 that they are not against Trump and that they are not racist. They also disputed reports that they were born in Nigeria.

“We are not racist. We are not homophobic and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens,” they said in the statement.

Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett at the Children’s Defense Fund California’s 28th Annual Beat The Odds Awards at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, on Dec. 6, 2018. (Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)

“In due course, all the facts will reveal themselves, and at the end of the day, my clients are honest and credible,” added the brothers’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt.

Police officers searched the brothers’ home last week and took a number of items, including a thumb drive, an “Empire” script, a black face mask, cellphones, and a laptop.

Law enforcement sources previously told CBS Chicago that the brothers told detectives they were paid $3,500 to stage the attack and that Smollett had them rehearse it several days prior to the Jan. 29 incident. They left for Nigeria later that day and were allegedly told they’d get another $500 when they returned to the United States.

Sources also gave Fox 32 the same information.

apartment searched in smollett case
A photo shows an apartment on Feb. 14, 2019, that was searched by police in connection with an investigation of an alleged attack on actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago that he said happened on Jan. 29, 2019. (Nader Issa/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

The brothers may also be behind a letter sent to Smollett that included hateful messages. Detectives took a magazine “similar to the one that was used to cut out letters for the hate mail that was sent to Smollett prior to the reported attack,” reported Fox.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the older brother pleaded guilty to aggravated battery in 2012 and was sentenced to two years of probation for being one of five people who stabbed a 17-year-old in 2011. The younger brother was ticketed for driving under the influence in 2015.

According to the Tribune, the brothers are of Nigerian descent. One attended high school in Chicago while the other received his secondary education in Chicago. They both attended Quincy University, a small liberal arts college in Illinois. Both owe tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. They filed for bankruptcy in 2016, saying they had a party and decoration store but it dissolved because it was “operating at a loss.”

Smollett was following the brothers’ bodybuilding page on Instagram and at least one picture showed both brothers on the set of “Empire,” where they posed with director Lee Daniels and reportedly played minor roles in an episode.

The brothers have also appeared in “Chicago P.D.” and the 2017 movie “The Worst Nightmare.” One appeared in Spike Lee’s 2015 film “Chi-Raq.”

Latest From Police, Smollett

The Chicago Police Department hasn’t confirmed reports on what the brothers told detectives but did say they were released after initially being arrested.

In a statement, a police spokesman said that information the brothers relayed “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.”

“We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview,” spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

In an update on Monday, Smollett’s team said: “There are no plans for Jussie Smollett to meet with Chicago police today. Any news reports suggesting otherwise are inaccurate. Smollett’s attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf. We have no further comment.”

Police told Rafer Weigel, a Fox Chicago reporter, that “it’s certainly possible” that the case will go to a grand jury but that “it’s way too premature” to make that determination.

The grand jury could be a last resort if Smollett doesn’t voluntarily go in for questioning, a spokesman said and noted the actor’s lawyers have given no indication to the police that he was planning on going in for questioning.