Men in Smollett case are bodybuilders, aspiring actors

Associated Press
This image provided by the Chicago Police Department and taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, early Jan. 29, 2019.

Chicago – An attorney representing the brothers at the center of an investigation into the attack reported by Jussie Smollett said her clients “manned up” and testified in front of a grand jury, before prosecutors charged the “Empire” actor with filing a false police report.

Gloria Schmidt spoke to reporters Wednesday outside a Chicago courthouse where the brothers met with the grand jury, which was collecting evidence in the case. The brothers told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack because he was unhappy about his salary and wanted to promote his career.

Police have said the brothers are not considered suspects but haven’t elaborated. Schmidt said the two men wanted to come clean and weren’t motivated by any promises from prosecutors.

“There was never a change of heart,” Schmidt said. “There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said, ‘We’re gonna correct this.’ Plea deal, immunity, all of that – they don’t care about that.”

The brothers, identified by Schmidt as Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, are of Nigerian descent. But they told a reporter at CBS2-Chicago that they were “born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”

They are bodybuilders who have developed an online following and have dabbled in acting and at least one failed business venture, according to social media posts and news reports.

Abimbola Osundairo, 25, graduated from Lake View High School in Chicago, where he participated in football, track and field, soccer, and wrestling, before joining the football team at Quincy University in western Illinois, according to a football profile on the university’s website. Olabinjo Osundairo, 27, also was on the Quincy football team and had attended Latmos Comprehensive College in Lagos, Nigeria, according to his football profile.

Smollett, who is black and gay, he was physically attacked by two men who shouted homophobic and racial slurs at him before beating him up and throwing some kind of chemical on him the early morning of Jan. 29. He also said his attackers shouted, “This is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and looped a rope around his neck.

The brothers told a CBS2 reporter in a phone interview that they are not racist, homophobic or anti-Trump, the news station reported.

Chicago police said they reviewed video of Smollett walking downtown but found nothing showing an attack. They released images of two people , later identified as the brothers, whom they called “persons of interest” in the case because they were in the area at the time.

The Osundairos were arrested on Feb. 13 at O’Hare International Airport after returning from Nigeria when police learned at least one of them worked on “Empire.” Police said they left for Nigeria on the day of the attack. Police released them released after two days, saying the “investigation had shifted” following interviews with the brothers.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Thursday that investigators reviewed extensive phone records between Smollett and the brothers, including calls from when the brothers were in Nigeria after the allegedly staged attack.

The Cook County State’s Attorney charged the 36-year-old Smollett on Wednesday with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. He turned himself in to police early Thursday to face the charge, police said.

Smollett’s attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, met with prosecutors and police earlier Wednesday afternoon. It’s unknown what was discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting. The attorneys didn’t reply to requests seeking comment.

A man identified on some videos as the Osundairos’ business partner, Leland Stanford, did not respond Wednesday to a Facebook message. The Osundairos did not respond to a message on their “Team Abel” Facebook page or to an email posted on their YouTube page, and a voice message left at a phone number listed for their father also was not returned.

Smollett’s lawyers had said the actor was angered and “victimized” by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.

“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,” the weekend statement read. “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 statement said one of the brothers was Smollett’s personal trainer, and the Chicago Tribune – which is not naming the brothers – reported that Smollett follows their bodybuilding page on Instagram.

The Osundairos, who promote a fitness and diet program under the title “Team Abel,” have more than 20,000 Instagram followers and more than 1,600 followers on Facebook. They also have a “Team Abel” YouTube channel.

They’re also aspiring actors who have posted auditions online and reportedly worked with Smollett on “Empire.”

The Tribune reported that neither brother has been credited for work on “Empire,” though the older brother said in a 2015 interview that he played the prison bodyguard for Chris Rock’s character. Rock guest-starred on the Season 2 premiere of “Empire” in 2015.

The newspaper also reported that the brothers signed in 2016 with Hinsdale, Illinois-based Babes ‘N Beaus Model and Talent Agency, according to one of the owners, Don Underwood.

Each appeared on an episode of NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” last year, and both had roles in the 2017 independent movie “The Worst Nightmare,” the Tribune reported. One had a small part in Spike Lee’s 2015 film, “Chi-Raq.”

State records showed the Osundairos established a party and decoration store in 2015 that was dissolved last year, the Tribune reported. Federal court records show they filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and their store “operating at a loss.”

The newspaper reported that the older brother pleaded guilty in 2012 to aggravated battery and was sentenced to two years of probation for a stabbing that occurred a year earlier about a block away from the brothers’ home, according to Cook County records. His brother was ticketed for a DUI in 2015.