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Police: ‘Empire’ actor turns self in to face charge

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CHICAGO — “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in early Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report when he told authorities he was attacked in Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said.

Smollett turned himself in at central booking and was arrested, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was scheduled to hold a Thursday morning news conference, and Smollett was expected to appear in court later in the day. Police haven’t described a motive.

The whispers about Smollett’s account started with reports that he had not fully co-operated with police after telling authorities he was attacked. Then detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the beating. Later, two brothers were taken into custody for questioning but were released after two days, with police saying they were no longer suspects.

Following three weeks of mounting suspicions, Smollett was charged Wednesday with felony disorder conduct, a charge that could bring up to three years in prison and force the actor, who is black and gay, to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a Jan. 29 beating.

In less than a month, the 36-year-old changed from being the seemingly sympathetic victim of a hate crime to being accused of fabricating the entire thing.

The felony charge emerged on the same day detectives and the two brothers testified before a grand jury. Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and police, but it was unknown what they discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting.

In a statement, attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said Smollett “enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked.”

The announcement of the charges followed a flurry of activity in recent days, including lengthy police interviews of the brothers, a search of their home and their release after officers cleared them.

Investigators have not said what the brothers told detectives or what evidence detectives collected. But it became increasingly clear that serious questions had arisen about Smollett’s account — something police signalled Friday when they announced a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the probe after the brothers were freed.

Smollett, who plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show “Empire,” said he was attacked Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — before fleeing.

Earlier Wednesday, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character is not being written off the show. The series is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.

The studio’s statement followed reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation.

After reviewing hundreds of hours of video, detectives did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the brothers at O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.

The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett.

The day after they were released, police said the men provided information that had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” and detectives requested another interview with Smollett.

Police said one of the men had worked on “Empire,” and Smollett’s attorneys said one of the men is the actor’s personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video. The actor released his debut album, “Sum of My Music,” last year.

Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. The police spokesman said the brothers appeared before the panel to “lock in their testimony.”

Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.

“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said.

She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. “You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.

She also said her clients received money from Smollett, but she did not elaborate.

Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Referring to a published account of the attack, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that “it doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.”

But several hours after Smollett was declared a suspect and the charges announced, there was little reaction from celebrities online.

Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.

Smollett has a record — one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.

Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly monthlong investigation, including the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.

The size of the tab is anyone’s guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.

Weisberg recently represented a client who was charged with making a false report after surveillance video discredited her account of being robbed by three men at O’Hare Airport.

For an investigation that took a single day, his client had to split restitution of $8,400, Weisberg said. In Smollett’s case, “I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Check out the AP’scomplete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

Don Babwin, The Associated Press







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Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala deploy troops to lower migration

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has struck an agreement with Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to temporarily surge security forces to their borders in an effort to reduce the tide of migration to the U.S. border.

The agreement comes as the U.S. saw a record number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border in March, and the largest number of Border Patrol encounters overall with migrants on the southern border — just under 170,000 — since March 2001.

According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Mexico will maintain a deployment of about 10,000 troops, while Guatemala has surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border and Honduras deployed 7,000 police and military to its border “to disperse a large contingent of migrants” there. Guatemala will also set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route through the country.

A White House official said Guatemala and Honduras were deploying troops temporarily in response to a large caravan of migrants that was being organized at the end of March.

Psaki said “the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey, and make crossing the borders more difficult.”

She added that the agreement was the product of “a series of bilateral discussions” between U.S. officials and the governments of the Central American nations. While Vice-President Kamala Harris has been tasked with leading diplomatic efforts to tamp down on the increase in migration at the U.S. border, Psaki declined to share details on her involvement with the discussions and said only that the discussions happened at “several levels.”

She noted that Roberta Jacobson, who will depart her role as the administration’s southwest border co-ordinator at the end of the month, was involved in talks.

Mexico announced in March that it was deploying National Guard members and immigration agents to its southern border, and it has maintained more personnel at its southern border since Trump threatened tariffs on Mexican imports in 2019.

On Monday, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs ministry said, “Mexico will maintain the existing deployment of federal forces in the its border area, with the objective of enforcing its own immigration legislation, to attend to migrants, mainly unaccompanied minors, and to combat the trafficking of people.”

Honduras Foreign Affairs Minister Lisandro Rosales said Monday that Honduras maintains a multinational force at its border with Guatemala that works closely with that government on not only immigration, but also organized crime and other illegal activity. But “there was no commitment on the part of the Honduran delegation to put soldiers on the border, even though there is a clear commitment by the Honduran government to avoid this kind of migration that generates death and mourning for Honduran families,” Rosales said.

But Honduras Defence Secretary Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya, who was part of a Honduran delegation that met with U.S. officials in Washington last week, said later that the military was studying the possibility of sending more troops to the border to assist in migration control. He said the military always works under a plan and that planning would determine how many troops would assist national police and immigration authorities at the border.

“We need to do a correct analysis of the situation, increase troops if it’s necessary,” Díaz Zelaya told local press. He said Honduras would do so “in response to this request that comes from the great nation to the north (the United States) to be able to help on the issue of immigration.”

The Guatemalan government denied there was any signed agreement with the United States to place troops at the border to stop migrants. “The Guatemalan government has undertaken protection and security actions at the border since last year, on its own initiative, it is a constitutional mandate,” said presidential spokeswoman Patricia Letona. “In the context of the pandemic, the protection of the borders has become a fundamental aim for the containment of the virus.”

Guatemalan troops have been responsible for breaking up the last several attempted migrant caravans.

The increase in migrants at the border is becoming one of the major challenges confronting Biden in the early months of his first term.

Numbers grew sharply during Trump’s final year in office but further accelerated under Biden, who quickly ended many of his predecessor’s policies, including one that made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for court hearings in the U.S.

Mexicans represented the largest proportion of people encountered by the U.S. Border Patrol, and nearly all were single adults. Arrivals of people from Honduras and Guatemala were second and third, respectively, and more than half of the people from those countries were families or children travelling alone.

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Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego, María Verza in Mexico City, Sonny Figueroa in Guatemala City and Marlon González in Tegucigalpa contributed reporting.

Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press



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Air Canada, Ottawa agree to aid package worth up to $5.9 billion

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OTTAWA — Air Canada and Ottawa have agreed to financing deals that would allow the airline to access as much as $5.9 billion through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility program.

As part of the package, Air Canada has agreed to a number of commitments, including refunds for some customers who did not travel due to COVID-19 and a promise to resume service at some regional airports.

Other restrictions include limits on executive compensation and maintaining a minimum number of staff.

Travel restrictions introduced through the beginning of the pandemic have been catastrophic for the airline industry. 

Then-CEO Calin Rovinescu described it as the “bleakest year in the history of commercial aviation,” when the airline released its 2020 financial results in February.

The deal with Ottawa includes debt as well as an equity investment.

The company lost $4.6-billion in 2020, compared with a profit of $1.5 billion the year before.

In early April, Air Canada pulled the plug on its planned $190-million takeover of Montreal-based tour operator Transat AT, citing Europe’s unwillingness to approve the deal, thus triggering a $12.5-million termination fee.

Organizations supporting Air Canada’s calls for a bailout have included unions such as Unifor and the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association, as well as the National Airlines Council of Canada industry group.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

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