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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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Theatre star Nick Cordero dies at 41 after months of complications from COVID-19

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TORONTO — Hamilton-raised theatre star Nick Cordero, who had legions of supporters rallying for him on social media during his harrowing health battle with COVID-19, has died in Los Angeles.

His wife, dancer-turned-celebrity personal trainer Amanda Kloots, said Cordero died on Sunday morning, “surrounded in love by his family.”

He was 41.

“My heart is broken as I cannot imagine our lives without him,” Kloots wrote on Instagram. “Nick was such a bright light. He was everyone’s friend, loved to listen, help and especially talk. He was an incredible actor and musician. He loved his family and loved being a father and husband.”

The Tony Award-nominated actor, singer and musician first entered hospital in L.A. at the beginning of April with what was seemingly a case of pneumonia, said Kloots.

Doctors suspected it was the novel coronavirus and administered three tests for it.

The first two tests came back negative and the third was positive for COVID-19.

The disease ravaged his body, according to Kloots, who kept the world updated on his situation daily with posts on her Instagram account.

She said doctors described his lungs as being riddled with holes and looking as if he’d been smoking for 50 years, even though he wasn’t a smoker.

He had a lingering lung infection and major complications from the disease, including blood pressure problems and clotting issues that led to the amputation of his right leg.

Cordero was in an intensive care unit on various machines to help support his heart, lungs and kidneys.

He was in a medically-induced coma but had come out of it before his death.

Kloots put on a brave face on her Instagram account, posting positive messages and often appearing with their son, Elvis, who just had his first birthday.

She encouraged everyone to play Cordero’s song “Live Your Life” to help send positive vibes for him into the universe.

Her plea spurred countless Instagram users, including some celebrities and Broadway stars, to post videos of themselves dancing to “Live Your Life” and performing various incarnations of it.

Kloots said that on Sunday, she sang the song to him in person, holding his hands.

As I sang the last line to him, ‘they’ll give you hell but don’t you (let) them kill your light not without a fight. Live your life,’ I smiled because he definitely put up a fight,” she wrote.

Along with her daily “Nick update” on her account, Kloots also often told heartwarming stories of their relationship and life together.

She said they struck up a relationship while they were performing on the Great White Way in “Bullets Over Broadway,” which earned him the Tony nomination.

Cordero grew up in Hamilton’s west end and attended Ryerson University for acting.

He was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his role in the musical “A Bronx Tale.” His other stage credits included “Rock of Ages.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press


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Tories, NDP at odds over federal spending as Liberals prepare fiscal snapshot

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OTTAWA — Opposition parties have laid out their demands for the federal Liberal government as Ottawa prepares to update Canadians on the country’s finances after four months of COVID-19 — and where it expects the economy to head for the rest of the year.

Wednesday’s fiscal snapshot will be the first public assessment of the country’s economic and financial situation since the pandemic started in earnest in March, forcing provinces into lockdown and the Liberal government to start doling out billions in aid in lieu of a federal budget.

The snapshot is expected to give an idea of how the government sees the rest of the fiscal year playing out, including figures for a potential deficit.

But the Conservatives and NDP made clear Sunday that they want more than just numbers: they want action. That includes additions, changes and expansions to federal COVID-19 support programs along with more accountability and transparency.

Yet while the Conservatives also called for the Liberals to produce a plan to get government spending under control, the NDP warned against any premature efforts to cut federal assistance.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre on Sunday blasted the Liberals’ handling of the economy while small business critic James Cumming underscored the importance of accurate fiscal projections and planning from the government for Canadian business.

“What business needs as they start to open up is some level of certainty,” Cumming said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

“They need to understand what the government’s finances are to understand how long these programs are going to last to assist them and when they will be starting to phase out. And a lot of that has a lot to do with the financial health of the government.”

Federal figures last week showed direct government spending on COVID-19 supports at just over $174 billion, which included another increase to the budget for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. That is now expected to cost $80 billion as eligibility increased to 24 from 16 weeks.

At the same time, Statistics Canada last week reported that the Canadian economy shrank 11.6 per cent in April — the largest monthly drop on record. That follows a 7.5 contraction in gross domestic product in March. Both are expected to hit Ottawa’s bottom line through lost tax revenue.

Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux has previously predicted that the increased spending and lost revenue could combine to see the federal deficit top $250 million this year.

With COVID-19 in retreat across most of the country — at least for the moment — Poilievre said it was time for the Liberals to produce a plan to start getting what he described as Ottawa’s “fiscal mess” under control.

That includes weaning Canadians off the CERB and getting them back to work by phasing out the $2,000-per-month benefit based on how much they earn rather than simply cutting off anyone who earns more than $1,000 in a month.

“The government is punishing Canadians for working,” Poilievre said. “We think that people on it should be rewarded when they make the courageous decision to go back to work and make a wage.”

Poilievre, who also demanded more money for the federal auditor general’s office to better scrutinize government spending during the pandemic, dismissed suggestions that Ottawa needs to keep the taps wide open to stimulate the economy as it starts to reopen.

He instead took aim at various Liberal policies and regulations around natural-resource development, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as having stunted economic growth and prosperity in Canada.

“Removing these government obstacles is the way you unleash growth and create a cornucopia of opportunity for our workers and businesses that will generate the wealth,” he said. “More deficit spending does not create jobs and growth.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also called last week for the CERB to be phased out to encourage Canadians to return to work. He made an exception for seasonal workers in the arts, hospitality and agricultural industries who will not earn a full income until next summer.

Yet NDP finance critic Peter Julian warned against any early cut to COVID-19 benefits and support and instead repeated longstanding calls from his party for the federal government to crack down on tax havens and tax wealthy Canadians and businesses to pay for the federal aid.

“There’s been a call for … dealing with the economic and financial fallout of the pandemic through cutting services,” Julian said in an interview.

“We actually believe that now is the time to handle the pandemic from the revenue side. We believe in tackling the tax haven problem, which is more acute in Canada than any other country. And to put in place a wealth tax.”

The NDP is also pressing for the Liberals to ease the criteria for businesses to access the federal wage subsidy, which covers up to 75 per cent of employees’ salaries, to encourage more hiring. And it wants the government to provide promised support for Canadians living with disabilities.

While the fiscal update will be presented in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Julian said the report itself will not require a vote. However, he suggested NDP support for future legislative proposals from the government could be contingent on the Liberals accepting the NDP’s requests.

The Liberals have leaned heavily on the NDP since being elected to a minority government in October. That included securing NDP support for several confidence motions in the winter and spring that, if defeated, could have triggered a federal election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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