A federal mail fraud charge that could mean up to 20 years in prison is the shoe left to drop in the Jussie Smollett scandal.
On Friday, the State of Illinois hit suspended Empire star Smollett with 16 class 4 felony counts of disorderly conduct pertaining to allegations he filed a false police report after conspiring to orchestrate a hate crime hoax against himself for publicity purposes.
The 16 counts are based on each alleged falsehood Smollett relayed to the police officers who initially responded to his call and the detectives assigned later.
Smollett, who is gay and black, told police he was attacked at 2:00 a.m. on January 29 by two white men who poured bleach on his black skin, wrapped a noose around his neck, assaulted him, and spewed racist and homophobic slurs. Smollett’s alleged attackers were also fans of Donald Trump who went so far as to inform Smollett that “This is MAGA country!” — a reference to the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Police, however, say it never happened, that it was all staged by Smollett. Authorities claim the two attackers, who are black, have confessed to their role in the hoax after Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the incident.
Apparently, Smollett believed the incident would result in a raise from Empire producers.
According to various news reports, based on these state charges alone, if convicted on all counts, the 36-year-old could face up to 48 years in prison (one to three years for each count). A consecutive sentence for the same crime, however, is unlikely. Smollett is probably facing one to three years or probation.
He will be arraigned on March 14.
In worse news for Smollett, there is still the matter of the hate mail authorities say the actor mailed to himself. Included in the letter was a white powder later found to be harmless.
If it can be proved he deliberately used the mail to commit a fraudulent act, that is a federal crime that could mean up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Smollett continues to claim he is innocent of all charges. Apparently, he wants us to believe two friends of his waited around in the middle of the night in subzero Chicago weather for an opportunity to commit a hate crime against him while posing as Trump supporters.
Obviously, what Smollett is accused of is beyond appalling, especially after we learned he staged this hoping it would be picked up by surveillance video. The social ramifications of that video getting out, of a hate-outlet like CNN relentlessly rerunning video of a black man being assaulted by two guys in red hats, could have been ten time worse than what we saw in Ferguson, Missouri — which was also the result of a media-fabricated hoax (led largely by the far-left CNN).
Smollett doesn’t deserve 48 years in prison, but for his own aggrandizement, Smollett played with fire, with the well-being of an entire city. If found guilty, he must be punished, meaning at least some prison time.
At least for right now, it looks as though Smollett is prepared to go to trial. It might be bluster in the hopes the state will offer a sweeter plea deal to save the time, expense, and insane publicity of what would be a costly trial, but the authorities are not hiding their disgust with Smollett, so they might welcome a trial, welcome the opportunity to lay out their case.