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Cook County inspector general to review prosecutors' handling of Jussie Smollett case

Saturday, April 13, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Gregory Pratt

CHICAGO — State's Attorney Kim Foxx has asked Cook County's inspector general to investigate her office's handling of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett's criminal case, she confirmed Friday.

Inspector General Patrick Blanchard revealed the request in a letter Thursday to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, county commissioners, Preckwinkle's top staff and Foxx.

"This letter is written to inform you that this office has received a request by State's Attorney Kim Foxx to conduct an Office of the Independent Inspector General review of the circumstances surrounding the resolution of criminal charges formerly pending against Jussie Smollett," Blanchard wrote in the letter, obtained by the Tribune. "As you may recall, the office of the Cook County State's Attorney has previously objected to the exercise of jurisdiction by this office over the SAO in relation to other unrelated issues. State's Attorney Foxx has stated that her office will cooperate during the course of this review notwithstanding prior objections to OIIG jurisdiction.

"Accordingly," Blanchard added, "this office will proceed with this review" under the county's inspector general law.

Preckwinkle's office declined to comment.

In a statement, Foxx lauded Blanchard.

"A former prosecutor, Inspector General Blanchard has been conducting independent inquiries for Cook County for over a decade," Foxx said. "Ensuring that I and my office have the community's trust and confidence is paramount to me, which is why I invited an independent review of this matter. I welcome this investigation and pledge my full cooperation and the cooperation of my office as IG Blanchard conducts his review."

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In a statement, Blanchard said his office "is pursuing an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the resolution of criminal charges in the Smollet case. This will be accomplished in accordance with the protocols established by this office."

Blanchard is no stranger to high-profile investigations. Last October he concluded that billionaire gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker improperly received $330,000 in property tax breaks on one of his Gold Coast mansions as part of a "scheme to defraud" taxpayers. Pritzker repaid the money, won the governor's race and denied wrongdoing.

Blanchard also concluded that an SUV driven "nearly exclusively" by Preckwinkle's security chief was illegally used to transport political materials, including campaign literature for Foxx, and successfully battled former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios over whether Blanchard had authority to investigate his office.

Smollett, who is African-American and openly gay, found himself at the center of an international media firestorm after he reported being the victim of a Jan. 29 attack by two people who shouted the slurs, hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck. Police initially treated the incident as a hate crime, but their focus turned to Smollett after two brothers who were alleged to have been his attackers told detectives that Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, with a promise of an additional $500 later.

In a stunning about-face, however, Foxx's office dropped the 16-count indictment it had secured against Smollett at an unannounced court hearing March 26.

The move to drop charges has provoked fierce criticism.

Outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued to try to force Smollett to reimburse Chicago for its expenses investigating the alleged hoax even all charges against the "Empire" actor were dropped.

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