'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty

Jussie Smollett 1

"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in a Chicago courtroom Thursday on 16 charges stemming from an alleged hate crime hoax.

After Smollett pleaded not guilty, Cook County Judge Steven Watkins granted him permission to travel to NY and California to consult with his attorneys, if he provides 48 hours notice to the court's pretrial services office.

Prosecutors claim Smollett, who is black and gay, paid two brothers with whom he was acquainted, to carry out a racial and homophobic attack, hoping the incident would advance his career and secure him a higher salary on Empire.

Watkins granted Smollett's request to be allowed to meet with lawyers in NY and California, but said the actor must give the court at least 48 hours' prior notice.

Police and prosecutors have said that Smollett hired two brothers to stage the attack.

Jussie Smollett is pleading not guilty to the 16 charges stemming from his allegedly lying to police about being attacked in Chicago.

Smollett was arrested on February 21 after being charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report in which he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime.

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"This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie's privacy in tampering with his medical records". He scheduled the next hearing for April 17. Chicago police pushed back and accused Smollett of faking the letter as well.

In a statement, Smollett's attorney Mark Geragos said while the indictment was "not unexpected".

"We welcome cameras in the courtroom so that the public and the media can see the actual evidence and what we believe is the lack of evidence against Mr. Smollett, and we look forward to complete transparency and the truth coming out", she said at a news conference earlier this week.

"The fact of an indictment was not unexpected", the statement read.

According to prosecutors, Smollett wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers and gave them $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps used in the supposed January 29 attack.

Fox cut Smollett's character in "Empire" after he was arrested. The decision was made to "avoid further disruption on set", producers said.

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