by Jenn Carter
Empire actor Jussie Smollett on Friday was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago on 16 felony counts in connection to an alleged hate crime staged against himself in January.
Last month, Smollett was charged with a felony disorderly conduct allegedly filing a false report with police on January 29th, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said.
Smollett, who plays a gay character on Empire, said he was attacked as he was walking home from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” before fleeing the scene.
Police said Smollett planned the hoax because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to promote his career. Before the attack, he also sent a letter that threatened him to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot, police said. Smollett is earning more than $100,000 per episode, according to several reports.
Smollett’s character on Empire was removed from the final two episodes of this season in the wake of his legal woes. “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays,” ″Empire” executive producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, and Dennis Hammer said in a written statement. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
The series is on a midseason break and returns March 13 with nine episodes. The last two episodes of the fifth season were still being made when Smollett was charged. At this point, Smollett is part of the seven already completed episodes.
Smollett’s legal team issued a statement after his arrest, calling the actor a “man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence.” The statement called Johnson’s news conference “an organized law enforcement spectacle.”
“The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett,” the statement read.