CHICAGO — One of the men at the center of the criminal case against former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett took the witness stand on the third day of the trial Wednesday, testifying that Smollett recruited him and his brother to stage a phony hate crime on a frigid night nearly three years ago.
Abimbola “Bola” Osundairo said he and Smollett were good friends when Smollett employed him to carry out the phony attack in Streeterville in January 2019.
Osundairo, 28, worked as an extra on the set of “Empire” before he and Smollett, 39, were introduced through a mutual acquaintance. Eventually, Smollett helped Osundairo get promoted to a stand-in position on the show. Osundairo said he felt that he owed Smollett and agreed to help in the plan.
“I agreed to do it because, most importantly, I felt indebted to him, to Jussie,” Osundairo said.
The two men socialized frequently in the 18 months before the attack, visiting nightclubs, strip clubs and bath houses together, Osundairo said. On occasion, Osundairo would obtain marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy for Smollett. The muscle-bound Osundairo also crafted and exercise and diet plan for Smollett ahead of a planned music video shoot.
“We became very good friends,” Osundairo said. “I would say even…I would call him my brother.”
Smollett was charged last year with six counts of disorderly conduct for reporting the allegedly phony hate crime to police. Cinespace Studios on the West Side, where “Empire” was filmed received a threatening letter — targeting Smollett — in the mail and prosecutors say Smollett was unhappy with the studio’s response to the threat.
Osundairo testified that, in the days leading up to the reported attack, Smollett gave he and his brother money for supplies and told them to attack him while using racial and homophobic slurs.
“He first mentioned the words that he wanted us to say to him, such as ‘Empire’ f—–, n—-, ‘MAGA,” Osundairo said. “He wanted me to do the punches specifically because he trusted me.”
Dan Webb, the former U.S. Attorney who was appointed special prosecutor in the case last year, conducted the direct examination of Osundairo. Webb’s questioning ended about 7 p.m. Wednesday, and Smollett’s defense team was set to start their cross-examination Thursday morning.
Osundairo’s older brother, who also worked on “Empire,” was also recruited in the scheme, Osundairo testified. The other Osundairo brother is also expected to testify later in the trial, which is expected to last until early next week.
After the alleged hate crime occurred, Osundairo and his brother flew to Nigeria as part of an already-planned trip to visit family. Upon their return to Chicago about two weeks later, the brothers were taken into custody and held at the police station for about two days. They were ultimately released without charges.
Smollett, however, sent a message to Osundairo while he was in custody, telling him: “I know 1000% you and your brother did nothing wrong and never would.”
Smollett also said he would issue a statement saying the brothers were not involved, though no statement was ever released.