The City of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against Empire actor Jussie Smollett after he refused to pay costs for the investigation into an alleged racist and homophobic attack.
Authorities say the “attack” was orchestrated by the actor as a publicity stunt and demand he pays the city $130,106 (£99,616) to cover the costs of extra police work to verify his account of events.
The 36-year-old told police he had been beaten up in January by masked men who shouted slurs and wrapped a rope around his neck.
A legal battle ensued after investigators claimed Smollett hired two brothers – Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo – to stage the incident in a bid to increase his earnings on Empire.
However the case was later dropped by prosecutors, who claimed they could prove the criminal charges but it was not worth the time and expense.
Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision a “whitewash of justice” and others criticised the attorney’s office for not requiring an apology or admission of guilt as a condition for dropping the case.
The lawsuit is likely to seek more than the $130,000 originally demanded from Smollett, although it does not include a specific figure.
City code states that Chicago could triple the original amount to $390,000 (£300,000).
If the city wins its lawsuit and Smollett still refuses to pay, his bank accounts could be frozen.
The actor continues to deny the allegations against him and a spokesperson for his legal team, who was reached on Thursday evening, said there was no immediate comment.
A letter from his lawyer last week said claims against Smollett were “defamatory” and accused Chicago of trying to “harass” the actor.
Mark Geragos said the fact the criminal case had been dropped was proof that Smollett was innocent.
The actor agreed to do community service and forfeit $10,000 (£7,600) in bond money before his case was dropped, despite denying any wrongdoing.
Evidence sealed in the criminal case could be unsealed in the civil lawsuit, and Smollett could be required to give out-of-court testimony.
The threshold of proof will be lower in the civil court, as it only requires the city to prove that it is more likely the actor staged the attack than not.
In criminal court, the burden of proof would need to be beyond reasonable doubt.
There is, however, a risk for the city that the lawsuit could end up costing more in legal bills than it would be able to get from Smollett.