TTR News Center

Former 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett indicted again by grand jury in Chicago

No Comments National News

Chicago Police Department(CHICAGO) — Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Chicago after a special prosecutor re-investigated allegations he bogusly reported being the victim of a January 2019 hate-crime attack, officials said.

Smollett, 37, was indicted on six counts related to making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers, claiming he was the victim of a hate crime while “knowing he was not the victim of a crime,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Webb was appointed by a Cook County judge to continue looking into the false allegations after the Cook County State’s Attorney Office dropped all charges against the actor.

Webb said the Office of the Special Prosecutor has “now completed all of its investigative steps regarding Jussie Smollett, and has made the decision to further prosecute Mr. Smollett.”

He said his office has made arrangements with Smollett’s attorneys for the actor to voluntarily appear at an arraignment on Feb. 24 in the Criminal Division of Cook County Circuit Court. Webb’s investigation began Aug. 23, after Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Toomin appointed him special prosecutor.

Toomin directed Webb to launched an independent investigation to determine whether Smollett should be further prosecuted for the allegedly false reports he made to police and whether “any person or office involved in the Smollett case engaged in wrongdoing, including the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office or individuals in that office,” Webb’s statement reads.

Webb said the grand jury’s investigation revealed Smollett “planned and participated in a staged hate-crime attack.”

Smollett made “numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions, reporting a heinous hate crime he, in fact, knew had not occurred,” according to Webb.

The special prosecutor determined that “reasonable grounds exist” to further prosecute Smollett “in the interest of justice.”

In deciding whether to pursue further charges against Smollett, Webb weighed the “extensive nature of Mr. Smollett’s false police reports” and the resources expended by the Chicago Police Department” to investigate his bogus claims, Webb’s statement reads.

Webb reached “no conclusions” on whether the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney or individuals in the office “engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with the Smollett investigation.”

Another “major factor” in determining whether to prosecute Smollett was that the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney was unable to provide to the special prosecutor evidence of similar cases that showed Smollett received no special treatment.

In a stunning move, the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx dropped all charges against Smollett in March despite acknowledging Smollett fabricated a street attack on himself in an attempt to get a pay raise.

Prosecutors said at the time that they were satisfied with Smollett forfeiting the 10% of a $100,000 bond that he put up, and preemptively completing community service prior to getting the charges dropped.

Smollett told police that on Jan. 29, 2019, he was walking on a street near his Chicago apartment around 2 a.m. when he was set upon by two men. The attackers allegedly shouted racist and homophobic slurs before hitting him, pouring “an unknown chemical substance” on him — possibly bleach — and wrapping a rope around his neck, he told detectives.

Police said Smollett’s story of being the victim of an attack began to unravel when police tracked down two men, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who they said were seen in a security video near where Smollett claimed he was assaulted and around the same time it supposedly occurred.

The Osundairo brothers claimed, according to police, that Smollett paid them $3,500 to help him orchestrate and stage the crime after he became upset that a letter threatening him, sent Jan. 22 to the Fox studio where the television series “Empire” is filmed, did not get enough attention. Police later alleged Smollett wrote the letter.

The brothers’ attorney said the check from Smollett was payment for both the personal training and their help in staging the attack.

In mid-February 2019, in an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America,” Smollett said he was heartbroken when he found out that people questioned the details of his story. He defended himself against skeptics who pointed out that it wasn’t until a follow-up interview with the police that he mentioned that the assailants yelled “MAGA Country!” at him. He also complained about erroneous reports that he had told police that the attackers were actually wearing red MAGA hats.

“For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing,” Smollett said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—–, they called me a n——. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”

After charges were dropped against him, Smollett held a news conference and proclaimed his innocence.

“I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” he said. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of.”

“This has been an incredibly difficult time,” he added. “Honestly, one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith and I’m a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement into a fire like this. I just wouldn’t. Now I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life. But make no mistake I will always continue to fight for justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”

The city of Chicago responded by filing a civil suit against the actor, demanding he reimburse the city $130,106 in police overtime to investigate his attack claims.

Smollett countersued, claiming authorities “maliciously” prosecuted him.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

City of Chicago declares climate crisis after storms cause millions of dollars in damage to Lake Michigan shoreline

No Comments National News

Scott Olson/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — Officials in Chicago have declared a climate crisis after a round of severe storms last month caused millions of dollars in damage to the city’s already disappearing shoreline on Lake Michigan.

In addition to the storms, record-high water levels in Lake Michigan during January also caused erosion on the lakefront, ABC Chicago station WLS reported.

After Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a local disaster for the portions of the destroyed beaches last week, the City Council environmental committee passed a resolution Monday to declare a climate crisis to seek resources to repair the damage, according to WLS.

The resolution does not require the city to take any action but pledges that the council will work with Lightfoot to develop a budget to promote “urgent climate action,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

The City Council also called on Lightfoot to re-establish a municipal Department of the Environment, which was eliminated by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he took office in 2011 to cut costs.

“I think that we need a dedicated aspect of our city bureaucracy that’s focused exclusively on that,” Alderman Matt Martin, who represents the city’s 47th Ward, said on Monday.

In November, WLS published dramatic photos showing how much of the beach has disappeared since 2013, when Lake Michigan was at an all-time low.

The mayor’s office is in the process of hiring a chief sustainability officer “who will ensure a dedicated focus on current climate and environmental issues,” according to a statement from the mayor.

“Mayor Lightfoot is committed to a proactive environmental agenda that puts equity at its center and prepares Chicago to protect all of its communities, especially those most vulnerable, from pollution and other threats to our shared environment,” the statement read.

During a governor’s meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker raised concerns about the state’s need for federal help to prevent flooding, prompting Trump’s office to ensure it was committed to working on providing aid.

Once the funds come through, it will be imperative for city officials to ensure that they are applied equitably throughout the city, including the Southside and south lakefront neighborhoods, Alderman Pat Dowell, who represents the 3rd Ward, said on Monday.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Student's parent charged with sex trafficking, forced labor at Sarah Lawrence College

No Comments National News

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A 60-year-old man has been accused of targeting students at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, and subjecting them “to sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse,” according to an indictment released Tuesday.

Lawrence Ray was charged with sex trafficking, extortion, forced labor and other offenses regarding his alleged criminal actions, some of which he went on with for nearly a decade, according to the indictment from federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

He is believed to have laundered about $1 million from his victims, most of whom were teens and young adults that participated in so-called therapy sessions he put on to purportedly help with psychological problems, prosecutors said.

Sarah Lawrence College said in a statement to ABC News that the school “just learned of the indictment,” but called the charges “serious, wide-ranging, disturbing, and upsetting.”

“We have not been contacted by the Southern District of New York, but will of course cooperate in their investigation to the full extent of the law if invited to do so,” according to the statement.

Ray’s alleged criminal activity started through the so-called therapy sessions, which he ran after he was released from a prison sentence for security fraud and moved into on-campus housing at the liberal arts school with his daughter and her roommates. The group eventually moved into a one-bedroom apartment on East 93rd Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Ray presented himself as a father figure to the students and learned “intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities, and mental health struggles under the pretense of helping them” during the sessions, according to the indictment.

Yet he then alienated them from their parents and convinced several that they were “broken” and “in need of fixing by Ray,” the indictment claimed.

He also made up lies about them, and, when they denied it, would subject them to interrogations that included “sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, physical violence, and threats of criminal legal action” — actions that then garnered false confessions, according to the indictment.

Ray videotaped the false confessions from at least seven victims and used them to extort money, unpaid labor and forced prostitution, according to the indictment.

If the students couldn’t pay, the indictment claimed, Ray ordered them to drain hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their parents’ savings accounts, open lines of credit, engage in real estate fraud and in one case earn money through prostitution.

He also allegedly took explicit photographs of some of the students.

Ray was the subject of a lengthy 2019 profile in New York Magazine’s The Cut, which detailed his dealings with the Sarah Lawrence College students. The piece was titled “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence: What happened to the group of bright college students who fell under the sway of a classmate’s father?”

Ray did not talk to the outlet about parts of his past because he said they were either “classified” or would “endanger other people.”

He denied mostly all the accusations in The Cut article, but did admit to taking money from one of his alleged victims that she earned through escorting.

“We know what is and is not. We know what’s truth and what’s wrong,” he told the outlet.

It was not immediately clear if Ray had obtained legal representation.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

The claws come out: Visual effects artists aren't laughing at the Oscars' 'CATS' gag

No Comments Entertainment News

Universal Pictures(LOS ANGELES) — One of the biggest laughs of Sunday night’s Oscars telecast was when Rebel Wilson and her CATS co-star, James Corden, came out in furry feline outfits to present the nominees for Outstanding Visual Effects.

“As cast members of the motion picture CATS, nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects,” the pair said on the Oscars stage, to laughs.  The bit was the actors’ obvious swipe at their own movie, the visual effects for which were flamed online even before CATS‘ inglorious debut.

However, visual effects artists on that film and others aren’t laughing.

In response to Corden and Wilson’s catty comments, the Visual Effects Society released a statement to industry trades, including Variety, saying, “…the producers chose to make visual effects the punchline, and suggested that bad VFX were to blame for the poor performance of the movie CATS. The best visual effects in the world will not compensate for a story told badly.”

The statement continued, “On a night that is all about honoring the work of talented artists, it is immensely disappointing that The Academy made visual effects the butt of a joke. It demeaned the global community of expert VFX practitioners doing outstanding, challenging and visually stunning work to achieve the filmmakers’ vision.”

The statement added, “Our artists, technicians and innovators deserve respect for their remarkable contributions to filmed entertainment, and should not be presented as the all-too-convenient scapegoat in service for a laugh.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Maren Morris scores chart milestone with number one hit "The Bones"

No Comments Country Music News

ABC/Image Group LAMaren Morris has reached the number one spot on the Billboard Country Airplay chart with “The Bones,” and it’s significant for multiple reasons.  

The new hit makes Maren the first solo female artist to have a number one on the Country Airplay chart since…well, Maren Morris.   She reached number one with “GIRL” last year, and no other solo female has topped that chart since then.

The success of “The Bones” also makes her the first solo female artist to have back-to-back number one hits on the country charts since 2016.  

“The bones are good. Thank you so much for my third number 1 song. And I will be having the party for it after I have this baby so I can drink all the margaritas,” Maren reflected in an Instagram post, tagging her co-writers Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins.

“The Bones” is Maren’s fourth number one country hit, following in the footsteps of “Girl,” “I Could Use a Love Song” and her collaboration with Thomas Rhett, “Craving You.” It also crossed over to the pop world, reaching the top 10 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart. 

In 2018, Maren topped several global charts with “The Middle,” her collaboration with Zedd and Grey.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: