CHICAGO, March 14 (Reuters) - “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is due to appear in court in Chicago on Thursday to face charges in a 16-count indictment accusing him of falsely reporting to police that he was the victim of a hate-crime assault.
In an indictment returned by a grand jury last Thursday, Smollett, 36, who is black, openly gay and plays a gay musician on Fox’s hip-hop drama, was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct alleging he gave false accounts of an attack on him to police investigators.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Smollett was previously charged last month with felony disorderly conduct for making a false report after he told police he was attacked in January by masked supporters of President Donald Trump who beat him, slung a noose round his neck and poured a liquid chemical on him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs.
Detectives investigated the incident as a hate crime but local news outlets cited police sources saying it was believed to be a hoax.
The Chicago Police Department is investigating how information about the alleged attack was anonymously leaked to journalists.
Fox cut Smollett’s character in “Empire” after he was arrested.
Smollett wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers and gave them $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps used in the supposed Jan. 29 attack, according to prosecutors.
Police said Smollett hoped the incident would advance his career and secure him a higher salary.
Police initially arrested the brothers on Feb. 13, after they were recognized from surveillance footage from near the scene of the alleged attack. One had appeared with Smollett on “Empire,” police and their lawyer said. Prosecutors said one had supplied Smollett with “designer drugs” in the past.
The brothers confessed to the plot, police said. They became cooperating witnesses and were released without charges.
After the alleged attack, Smollett received support on social media, including from celebrities and Democratic presidential candidates. Others were skeptical of the incident, which Smollett said occurred at around 2 a.m. on a city street during one of the coldest weeks in recent history.
In a “Good Morning America” interview last month, Smollett said he was angry some people questioned his story and suggested racial bias may be behind the disbelief. (Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)