The investigation: Text messages and secret meetings
The alleged plot’s electronic trail dates to January 25 when Smollett texted Abimbola Osundairo and said, “Might need your help on the low. You around to talk face to face?” prosecutors alleged.
He gave the brothers directions on the staged attack and told them to put a noose around his neck and shout “‘Empire’ fa***t” and “‘Empire’ n***er,” as well as to make a reference to “Make America Great Again,” prosecutors allege.
Smollett took the brothers to near the site of the purported attack, which had a surveillance camera on the corner, prosecutors said. The actor told detectives two men attacked him near the lower entrance of a Loews hotel in Chicago
After laying out the plan and rehearsing it, prosecutors said, Smollett gave the brothers a $100 bill to buy clothing and rope for a noose.
The staged attack went ahead as planned, with the brothers mildly punching Smollett with gloved hands, according to Johnson, the police superintendent.
“As far as we can tell, the scratching and bruising that you saw on his face were most likely self-inflicted,” Johnson said.
Phone records indicate Smollett talked to the brothers about an hour before the alleged attack, an hour afterward and after they left the country for Nigeria, authorities said.
Police initially treated the matter as a hate crime, but they could not find video of the incident from surveillance cameras in the area.
“I believe Mr. Smollett wanted it on camera,” Johnson said. “But unfortunately that particular camera wasn’t pointed in that direction.”
The arrest: Rideshares and last-minute confessions
Even without actual footage, police were able to identify two “persons of interest” and track down the brothers through cabs and rideshares they took afterward, police Cmdr. Edward Wodnicki told reporters.
They found evidence connecting Smollett to the men prosecutors say staged the attack, and investigators met the brothers at customs when they returned to the United States, Wodnicki said.
Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo asked for an attorney once in custody, Johnson said.
The men told officers that Smollett, who is black and gay, first “attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language. When that didn’t work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack,” the police superintendent said.
The revelations necessary to charge Smollett came during the 47th hour of a 48-hour holding period for the two men, who eventually confessed to the alleged plot, Johnson said.
After cooperating with police, the two were released without being charged last week and went before a grand jury Tuesday, Johnson said.