LOS ANGELES – The man who presided over Britney Spears' life during her well-publicized meltdown is portraying himself in court as a benevolent personal manager who saved her from ruin.
Sam Lutfi was to finish his direct testimony Wednesday and face cross-examination by a battery of lawyers for the singer's parents and conservators. They are fighting a multimillion-dollar lawsuit by Lutfi, who claims he was defamed by Lynne Spears in her book about her daughter.
He also said he was promised 15 percent of the millions of dollars that Spears earned during their association.
Spears' mother portrayed him as a Svengali-like figure preying on Britney's vulnerabilities. Lutfi said he was actually a peacemaker, reuniting Britney with her mother after a long estrangement.
He said the superstar implored him to become her personal manager after she had fired her entire staff.
Under questioning by his lawyer, Lutfi said Spears asked him to be her personal manager in June 2007, about a month after they met and struck up a conversation at a nightclub.
Lutfi described the singer at that time as being "in crisis mode."
"She was very distraught," he said. "She was having a child custody battle and was in the middle of a divorce." He added she also had drug problems.
He was reluctant to become her manager, he said. "I told her I had no experience as a manager for someone of her caliber. I wanted time to think about it."
But Lutfi said Spears pressed him, saying: "Sam, do you know what this job pays?"
"She said, `I'm getting $800,000 a month even when I'm not working. You will get 15 percent of that,"' he recalled.
Lutfi said he accepted the job with conditions, insisting that Britney allow him to put together a new "varsity team" consisting of a lawyer, agent and business manager.
"And I wanted her to promise me to stay clean," he said, noting he brought drug-sniffing dogs to Spears' home, where they found a baggie full of a white powder.
He said she promised and he flushed the powder down the toilet. He said he then took control.
"I took charge of dealing with the press. I acted as a liaison between Britney and her child custody attorneys. I interfaced with her record label and video producers. I helped her choose artwork for her album and merchandise."
Lutfi said he negotiated a peace pact with paparazzi who dogged her every move, giving them access to her schedule if they would follow at a safe distance and save her a parking space at her destination.
Once, he said, he and Britney traveled to Las Vegas to see if she could find a venue for a permanent performing spot.
But he said by September, the singer had relapsed on drugs, and he walked out. On Oct. 1, 2007, he said, "Britney called me from her car and asked me to come back and help her kick drugs."
Lutfi said Spears had been parked all night outside a tanning salon in a mini mall, where he found her and took her home. He said he moved into her house after that, although there was no romantic relationship.
Through all of this, he said he had no written management contract nor was he ever paid.
In her book, Lynne Spears refers to him during that period as "the gatekeeper," "the general" and "Svengali."
In a passage of the book read by the judge outside the jury's presence, Lynne Spears wrote: "He lorded over me that he had complete access and I had no access to my own child."
Lutfi, wearing a suit and black-rimmed glasses, spoke in a businesslike manner as he described his increasing role as intermediary in the star's career and private life.
He said he broached the subject of her estrangement from her parents and arranged for a reunion for Britney and her mother. Jurors were shown a photo of the two women meeting and smiling.
He also said he approached her father about a meeting, but he declined.
The star's parents, Jamie and Lynne Spears, have been in court every day. After Britney was hospitalized for mental illness, her father became her conservator, an ongoing arrangement.