The brothers accused of attacking actor Jussie Smollett, only to be cleared when prosecutors announced Smollett had orchestrated a hoax to advance his career, are suing his legal team for defamation, attorneys said Tuesday.
The federal lawsuit alleges defamation and false light by attorney Tina Glandian for saying, among other things, that brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo attacked the “Empire” actor and dealt steroids, and “inferring” that Abimbola engaged in sexual relations with the actor.
“In short, Mr. Smollett used his clout as a wealthy actor to influence Plaintiffs, who were in a subordinate relationship to him and were aspiring to ‘make it’ in Hollywood,” said the lawsuit filed in US District Court in Chicago. “He wanted his employer and the public to notice and appreciate him as a successful Black, openly gay actor. So, Mr. Smollett directed every aspect of the attack, including the location and the noose.”
The lawsuit also names Mark Geragos, who heads the firm that employs Glandian.
In a joint statement, Geragos and Glandian called the lawsuit ridiculous and predicted it would be dismissed because it “lacks any legal footing.”
“At first we thought this comical legal document was a parody. Instead this so-called lawsuit by the brothers is more of their lawyer driven nonsense, and a desperate attempt for them to stay relevant and further profit from an attack they admit they perpetrated,” the statement said.
“We look forward to exposing the fraud the Osundairo brothers and their attorneys have committed on the public.”
Attorneys ‘doubled down’ after charges dropped?
Gloria Schmidt, who represents the Osundairos, said the brothers, who were extras on “Empire,” merely thought they were helping Smollett and were made scapegoats after Smollett’s ruse was uncovered.
“They were asked to do something by a friend that they trusted, and at the end of the day that friend betrayed that trust,” she told reporters.
The Osundairo brothers cooperated with authorities, testifying before a grand jury, before Smollett was charged with multiple felony counts alleging the actor duped the Chicago police into believing he had been the target of a hate crime.
Prosecutors later dropped the charges against Smollett. The lawsuit alleges that after the charges were dropped, Glandian continued to advance the narrative that Smollett had been attacked and defamed the brothers. Geragos, too, is accused of advancing that narrative and alleging the Osundairo brothers lied to police, the lawsuit says.
Rather than simply celebrating their client being cleared of wrongdoing, the lawsuit says, Geragos and Glandian “doubled down, not simply affirming that Mr. Smollett was a wholly innocent victim, but that (among other accusations) Plaintiffs unequivocally led a criminally homophobic, racist, and violent attack against Mr. Smollett. Defendants made these comments knowing they were untrue to distract from Mr. Smollett’s farce.”
The lawsuit continues, “Ms. Glandian insisted Mr. Smollett was innocent of making a false police report and falsely added that Plaintiffs criminally attacked Mr. Smollett. … These statements were unnecessarily made on national media to advance Mr. Smollett’s and Ms. Glandian’s reputation and fame at high cost to Plaintiffs.”
The brothers have faced difficulty obtaining jobs, attorney Greg Kulis said. Their health-and-training business has faltered as a result of the allegations they committed a hate crime and sold steroids, which they deny, and Abimbola Osundairo, who is straight, has suffered reputational damage among a Nigerian community that widely frowns on being gay, the brothers’ legal team said. They’ve also been harassed by paparazzi and reporters, Schmidt said.
The lawsuit requests a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ costs.
‘The answers will be unveiled’
Smollett alleged that on the morning of January 29 two men used homophobic and racist slurs while tying a rope around his neck and pouring a substance on him. Police launched a manhunt, eventually homing in on the Osundairo brothers, but after questioning them police said Smollett had paid the men $3,500 to stage the attack.
A Cook County, Illinois, grand jury indicted Smollett last month on 16 felony counts, but prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the charges.
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a statement.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision a “whitewash of justice,” while Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson accused Smollett of brokering a deal in secrecy. Schmidt said at the time that the Osundairo brothers were “fully prepared” to testify in Smollett’s case.
Smollett maintained his innocence, telling reporters, “I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
Responding to the outcry, Joe Magats, the Cook County first assistant state’s attorney, told CNN affiliate WLS the dismissal of charges was not an exoneration and that authorities still believed Smollett was guilty of the charges. He cited 5,700 other cases that ended in similar dismissals, saying, “To think that there is some type of infirmity or something that we learned about the case or something that we don’t want aired is not true.”
The Osundairo brothers’ legal team, however, said there are certain facts Smollett’s attorneys don’t want made public.
“People questioned what happened in Cook County,” Kulis said at a Tuesday news conference. “The answers will be unveiled in federal court.”
CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Brad Parks and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.