Brothers in Smollett case ‘manned up’ to correct story, says lawyer

A lawyer representing the brothers at the centre of an investigation into an attack reported by Jussie Smollett has said her clients “manned up” and gave evidence to a grand jury before prosecutors charged the TV star with filing a false police report.

Gloria Schmidt spoke to reporters outside a Chicago court where the brothers met the grand jury, which was collecting evidence in the case.

She said the two men had accepted money from the Empire star and wanted to come clean, and were not motivated by any promises from prosecutors.

“There was never a change of heart,” Ms Schmidt said. “There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said, ‘We’re gonna correct this’. Plea deal, immunity, all of that — they don’t care about that.”

Jussie Smollett (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The brothers, identified by Ms Schmidt as Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, are of Nigerian descent, but they told a reporter at CBS2-Chicago that they were “born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens”.

They are bodybuilders who have developed an online following and have dabbled in acting and at least one failed business venture, according to social media posts and news reports.

Abimbola Osundairo, 25, and Olabinjo Osundairo, 27, also told a CBS2 reporter they are not racist, homophobic or anti-Trump, the news station reported.

Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed he was physically attacked by two men who shouted homophobic and racial slurs at him before beating him up and throwing some kind of chemical on him on January 29.

He also said his attackers shouted, “This is MAGA country”, an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan Make America Great Again, and looped a rope around his neck.

He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying

Police said they had reviewed video of Smollett walking in central Chicago but found nothing showing an attack. They released images of two people, later identified as the brothers, who they called “persons of interest” because they were in the area at the time.

The Osundairos were arrested on February 13 at O’Hare International Airport after returning from Nigeria when police learned at least one of them worked on Empire. Police said they left for Nigeria on the day of the attack.

They were released after two days when police said the “investigation had shifted” following interviews with the brothers.

Prosecutors charged 36-year-old Smollett on Wednesday with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report.

His lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor P Henderson, had earlier said the actor was angered and “victimised” by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.

“As a victim of a hate crime who has co-operated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” the statement read.

“He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”

The statement said one of the brothers was Smollett’s personal trainer, and the Chicago Tribune reported that Smollett follows their bodybuilding page on Instagram.

The Osundairos, who promote a fitness and diet programme under the title Team Abel, have more than 20,000 Instagram followers and over 1,600 on Facebook. They also have a Team Abel YouTube channel.

They are aspiring actors who have posted auditions online and reportedly worked with Smollett on Empire.

The Tribune reported that neither brother has been credited for work on Empire, though the older brother said in a 2015 interview that he played the prison bodyguard for Chris Rock’s character. Rock guest starred in the season 2 premiere of Empire in 2015.

They also appeared in an episode of NBC’s Chicago PD last year, and both had roles in the 2017 indie movie The Worst Nightmare, the Tribune reported. One had a small part in Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-Raq.

State records showed the Osundairos established a party and decoration store in 2015 that was dissolved last year, the Tribune reported. Federal court records show they filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and their store operating at a loss.

The newspaper said the older brother pleaded guilty in 2012 to aggravated battery and was sentenced to two years probation for a stabbing that occurred a year earlier about a block away from the brothers’ home.

- Press Association

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