One Man Spent 36 Years in Prison for Stealing $50. Another Served 6 Days for Faking a Hate Crime.

Fatim Hemraj

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Jussie SmollettBillboard

On January 29, 2019, then 36-year-old Empire actor Jussie Smollett filed a police report claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.

Jussie told responding officers he was walking home from a Subway restaurant at 2 am when two white men wearing black ski masks began hurling racist and homophobic slurs at him. Jussie claimed he was then beaten, doused in bleach, and had a noose placed around his neck by the two assailants as they shouted, “MAGA country!” and fled the scene.

A week earlier, Jussie had received a threatening letter at the Empire studio that said in letters cut out of a magazine. Along with the letter was a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree.

According to Vulture, the creator of Empire, Jussie’s co-stars and other well-known public figures like U.S. President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris denounced the attack, with the latter calling it a “modern-day lynching.

Jussie became a household name seemingly overnight as people around the world rallied behind him in support.

But then, things took a turn.

On February 14th, the suspects were caught with the help of surveillance footage. They were identified as Nigerian brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo. At the time, Abimbola was Jussie’s personal trainer and an extra on Empire.

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Abimbola and Olabinjo OsundairoNews Week

A short time later, Chicago PD released the Osundairo brothers, proclaiming the hate crime had been a hoax orchestrated by Jussie himself. They alleged he was upset the threatening letter hadn’t been taken seriously and was displeased with his salary on Empire; that he believed that his role as a victim of a hate crime would garner media attention and fame.

According to ABC News, the allegations came after the Osundairo brothers told authorities Jussie had paid them $3,500 to beat him up. During a raid of their apartment, authorities found a $3,500 cheque made out to the brothers signed by Jussie, who claimed it was for a 5-week diet and fitness plan when confronted.

Jussie denied hiring the Osundairo brothers but couldn’t explain why their phone records proved he contacted them before and after the attack.

On February 21, 2019, Jussie was charged with disorderly conduct for staging a fake hate crime and filing a false police report. Authorities also accused Jussie of sending himself the threatening letter.

On March 26, 2019, all charges against Jussie were suddenly dropped after he agreed to surrender a $10,000 bond and complete community service, causing public outrage. The city of Chicago was particularly pissed off about the cost of the investigation, after all, $130,000 is a lot of money. They filed a lawsuit against Jussie and he countersued, alleging they tarnished his reputation and caused him, “humiliation and extreme distress.”

Nearly a year later, Jussie was arrested again, this time on six counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. He was convicted of five on December 9, 2021, and faced 15 years in prison, 3 years per count.

Prosecutors claimed Jussie did not cooperate with the investigation by handing over his phone and alleged there was surveillance footage of himself and the Osundairo brothers conducting a dry run of the attack in which Jussie circled the area three times in an effort to show them where he would be.

When officers responded to Jussie’s home an hour after the attack to take a statement, the noose was still around his neck. Prosecutors claimed it was significantly tighter when compared to surveillance footage of Jussie walking home after the attack and he was accused of, “making it worse than it was.”

Despite claiming he had been punched and kicked, Jussie was found to be mostly uninjured with the exception of a few scratches and some bruising on his face that authorities claimed were “likely self-inflicted.”

Jussie proclaimed his innocence in an interview with ABC News claiming he did not want to report the attack because as a gay Black man, he does not trust the police. When asked why he refused to hand over his phone, Jussie said he was protecting his privacy as a public figure.

Jussie did eventually turn his phone records in but Chicago PD said they were “heavily redacted.” Maybe it had something to do with those pesky phone calls between himself and the Osundairo brothers— just a wild guess.

At his sentencing hearing on March 10, 2022, Jussie was ostracized by Judge James Linn who referred to him as a selfish, narcissistic charlatan stating, “The problem was you lied to the police and you haven’t stopped lying since.” According to Law and Crime, Judge Linn sentenced Jussie to 150 days in jail followed by 30 months of probation, $120,000 in restitution and a $25,000 fine.

On his way out of the courtroom, Jussie shouted, “I’m not suicidal!” and insinuated that if anything were to happen to him while in custody (think: Jeffrey Epstein), it wouldn’t be as a result of his own actions.

Unsurprisingly, Jussie’s defense attorneys filed an appeal and he was released on March 16th after serving only six days in jail.

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Jussie SmollettReuters

While some wholeheartedly believe Jussie is guilty, others (including himself) insist he is a victim and that his conviction is the result of a racist judicial system attempting to use him as a whipping boy and an example to others who might decide to follow in his footsteps and conjure up a similar scheme.

In the end, whether we believe Jussie orchestrated a fake hate crime is irrelevant. He was convicted, meaning in the eyes of the law, he is guilty beyond a reasonable count. But does the sentence truly match the crime?

Jussie was sentenced to 150 days in jail for committing an act many say makes it even more difficult for real hate crime victims to step forward.

Meanwhile, Alvin Kennard spent 36 years in prison for stealing $50.75. Addicted to drugs and alcohol by age 11, Steven Speal served nearly 20 years for petty non-violent drug charges and Michele Thiesen served 27 for stealing a VCR. 2/3 of these convicted felons are not visible minorities.

They’re also not rich or famous by any means like former child-star Drake Bell who received 2 years of probation for the long-term grooming and sexual assault of a teen girl, actor Matthew Broderick who received a $175 fine for the death of two people during a car crash, and rapper Jay-Z who received 3 years of probation for stabbing a record executive in the stomach.

Imagine if public figures and the wealthy faced the same justice system as the rest of us. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of world I’d like to live in.

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Hi, I'm an independent crime journalist covering missing person investigations and resolved cases. I also publish on Medium. To reach out, contact me at fatimhemraj@gmail.com.

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