Actor Jussie Smollet makes a court appearance at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 14, 2019. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Pool via REUTERS Image Credit: REUTERS

US television actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty on March 14 to charges he lied to police about being the victim of a racist, homophobic hate crime.

The 36-year-old actor was charged with 16 felony counts last week for allegedly masterminding a false attack to gain publicity and win a bigger paycheck.

He is accused of sending himself a threatening letter and hiring two acquaintances to stage a street attack in downtown Chicago, complete with homophobic and racial slurs, while invoking US President Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.

News of the attack in January attracted widespread shock and support for the actor.

Smollett has maintained his innocence and his attorney Tina Glandian earlier this week said the case against him is mired in “misinformation.”

“There has been a lot of misinformation in this case that has been presented as fact and evidence against Mr Smollett, which is demonstrably false,” Glandian said.

Smollett found fame on Fox musical drama ‘Empire’, but was removed from the last two episodes of the show’s latest season amid the controversy.

The next court hearing is set for April 17.