Chicago, IL – The Jussie Smollett case took an interesting turn on Tuesday as law enforcement sources confirmed that federal authorities are now investigating the “Empire” star.
Two federal officials have confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Postal Inspector are investigating whether Smollett sent a threatening letter to himself at FOX’s Chicago studio a week before the alleged attack, according to ABC News.
The FBI was already investigating the letter, constructed of glued on letters cut from magazine pages, received by the actor on Jan. 22, the Associated Press reported.
The letter contained a white powder that was determined to be crushed up aspirins, but it generated a HAZMAT response from authorities when it was first received.
WBBM reported that Smollett described the letter he received as “a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing toward it,” and said the return address read “MAGA.”
Now law enforcement sources have told WBBM that Smollett may have staged the attack on himself because he didn’t think the threatening letter was getting enough attention.
ABC News reported that sources said the letter had been sent to the FBI crime lab for analysis.
Smollett told investigators he was walking home from a Subway restaurant in his Streeterville neighborhood in the early hours of Jan. 29 when he was jumped by two masked men, the Associated Press reported.
He said the men beat him, and hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him.
Smollett, 36, told police that the men threw an unknown substance on him and put a noose around his neck before they ran off, according to the Associated Press.
The actor told police that he returned to his own apartment and that his manager called police for him about 40 minutes later, according to Chicago Police Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Smollett went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for treatment of the lacerations on his face and neck at the suggestion of police officers.
Police initially investigated the attack as a possible hate crime, Guglielmi said.
Smollett is a well-known and vocal LGBTQ activist in addition to his entertainment career, according to the Associated Press.
However, the narrative began to turn after Chicago police reviewed hundreds of hours of closed-circuit camera footage from city cameras and private security cameras in the heavily-trafficked area searching for video of the incident, and found no evidence of the attack, Billboard reported.
Speculation about the report being false continued to grow after Smollett refused to allow the Chicago police access to his phone to confirm his story that he was attacked while talking to his manager.
His manager told police that he heard Smollett’s attackers say “This is MAGA country” while they were assaulting the actor, NBC News reported.
Thirteen days after the assault, partial, redacted phone records were provided to investigators but police said that what was provided wasn’t enough for their criminal investigation.
On Feb. 13, Smollett went on Good Morning America and told the world he was a victim, and said nobody would be doubting his story if he had claimed his attackers were minorities.
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more, and that says a lot about the place we are in our country right now,” Smollett said.
The very next morning, Chicago police announced they had identified two persons of interest “through meticulous investigation.”
On Feb. 15, police arrested two Nigerian brothers in Chicago’s O’Hare airport on suspicion that they may have been involved in the crime.
Ola and Abel Osundairo had both been extras on “Empire,” and were friends of Smollett, WBBM reported.
They searched the men’s apartment and found rope matching what was used to create the noose in the attack on Smollett, as well as magazines with missing pages that may have been used to create the threatening letter.
Law enforcement sources said one of the brothers purchased the rope at the Crafty Beaver Hardware Store in Ravenswood with money provided by Smollett.
The Osundairo brothers told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 for the staged attack, and that the three of them actually rehearsed it ahead of time, WBBM reported.
They were supposed to have been paid another $500 when they returned from Nigeria. They left Chicago on a trip to Nigeria the day after the attack.
“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,” the Osundairo brothers said in a joint statement to WBBM on Monday.
Smollett had previously told police he wanted to press charges against his attackers when they were found; however, he changed his tune and refused to sign complaints against the Osundairo brothers, claiming that he felt badly for them.
Official police sources have consistently denied that reports that police were considering it a hoax.
But TMZ reported that the case would be going before a grand jury as early as Tuesday.
TMZ reported that prosecutors will be presenting evidence to the grand jury that could result in a felony indictment against Smollett for filing a false police report.
Law enforcement said that investigators had seen a lot of red flags early in the investigation.
TMZ reported that detectives thought it was strange that Smollett was able to point out cameras near the area where he was attacked.
And the only people of interest captured on any of the cameras along the actor’s route home the night of the attack turned out to be the Osundairo brothers.
Investigators tracked down the brothers by their movements to and from nearby Smollett’s apartment building on the night of the alleged attack, TMZ reported.
Police sources said the men left the scene in a taxi or rideshare car, and then changed cars on the way home.
“It was almost like a bad spy movie,” a police source told TMZ.
Chicago police have said they needed to interview Smollett again, but so far, the actor hasn’t agreed to a sit down.
“While we are not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what’s been unofficially released, there are some developments in this investigation and detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident,” Guglielmi wrote in a post on Twitter.
However, Smollett’s attorneys told NBC News there were no plans for Smollett to meet with police, and that they would be handling that dialog for him.
“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” Smollett attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a statement on Saturday. “He has now been further victimized 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 actor has also hired criminal defense attorney Michael Monico, a former federal prosecutor who also recently represented Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, according to the New York Post.