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Did the Chicago police overstate their case against Jussie Smollett? The department says no.
Over the weekend, digital scans of the alleged check for $3,500 to brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo that is being used by Chicago police to accuse Smollett of staging his own hate crime have emerged and complicate claims made by Chicago's top cop.
The memo line on the check dated January 23 states that the payment is for "5 week Nutrition/Workout program (Don't Go)." The phrase "Don't Go" refers to an upcoming music video that Smollett was preparing to shoot, according to ABC News.
Sources close to Smollett told various outlets that the $3,500 amounts to a five week fitness program that is $600 per week, and $100 a week for nutrition plan.
Text messages reviewed and published by TMZ -- a source that has been continuously one of the first outlets to publish new evidence in this case -- corroborated the intent of the check by showing Smollett discussing the diet plans with the two brothers, who are named as key witnesses.
Messages on January 28 allegedly focus on Smollett's diet while traveling, which is the day before the reported incident.
Chicago police accused Smollett in a press conference last week of staging the entire incident due to salary issues on his television show, Empire, and misleading their department. Police superintendent Eddie Johnson focused in on the $3,500 check as primary evidence to Smollett filing a false report and staging his own hate crime.
On Monday, Johnson took to Good Morning America and defended the department's case. He told Robin Roberts that the brothers told police during interrogations that this specific check was given to them for the attack.
"I was very acutely aware of the situation in terms of the Chicago Police Department declaring he was a suspect. But I can tell you this, Robin, there's a lot more evidence that hasn't been presented yet that does not support the version that he gave us," Johnson told Good Morning America. "There's still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence, and testimony that just simply doesn't support his version of what happened."
The official didn't expand on what that evidence is, and when the department was asked in follow-up questions by The Advocate if the brothers have told police that the personal training was being used as a cover-up for plotting the incident, the department refused to elaborate.
"Any comments at this point must come from prosecutors however we stand firmly behind this investigation that is predicated exclusively on sworn testimony and video recorded interviews that are supported by physical evidence, including text messages and official records," spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi told The Advocate. "Like any and all defendants, Mr. Smollett has the presumption of innocence and this matter will be decided by a criminal court."
Smollett's camp was not able to provide comment on whether the actor intentionally misrepresented the check in order to hide payments related to staging the incident. But after last week's press conference, lawyers representing the actor maintained their defense by lashing out at the Chicago police who they say have created a "spectacle."
"Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system," attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said after the press conference. "The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a mayoral election.
"Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing," they continued.
As the actor awaits his next court date on March 14, all projects of his planned for release have been paused and the actor has been written out of Empire's final episodes. But even while the actor's presence on the show is now reduced, some fellow celebrities have not completely distanced themselves from the actor.
On Sunday, Terrence Howard, who plays Smollett's father on the show, responded to the investigation on social media by showing support.
In a video on Instagram that shows Smollett holding a baby, Howard writes: "All your lil homies got you. We love the hell outta you."