The Sopranos | Whitney Houston | 'Bowie Bonds' | Michael Jackson

Sopranos Spoiler: Furio(us) Speculation

The word last night at HBO's cool outdoor party for The Wire confirmed something we reported here a few weeks ago: So far, the new season of The Sopranos is missing Furio.

When pony-tailed actor Federico Castelluccio (search) showed up sans his mane a couple of months ago, I told you that probably meant he was off the show. His character, Furio, had flirted with Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) but split for Italy when Tony found out in the season finale.

Now I'm told that four episodes into shooting the possibly last season, Furio is so far a no-show.

"If he comes back, he'll be killed," said an insider speaking of the character, not the actor. "So what can he do?"

Nevertheless, Castellucci was looking fit and happy at The Wire premiere, along with several actors from that show and from HBO's Oz. Also on hand were Sopranos star Vince Curatola with his beautiful wife Maureen, actors Liev Schreiber and Sam Rockwell and, of course, the cast of The Wire.

HBO is grooming that show and others in case Sopranos creator David Chase (search) decides not to return next year for a sixth season. Believe it or not, it's up to him. "And he hasn't decided yet," says our source.

Whitney: Religious Group Worked on Her

How much did the Black Hebrews, or African Israelites want Whitney Houston (search)?

This much: It turns out that Prince Asiel, aka Warren Brown, the leader of the group's Chicago branch, actually went to the funeral of Houston's dad, John, last year.

My sources tell me that Asiel (which means "angel of healing") attended the wake for John Houston the night before his funeral and burial. That was the same service that Whitney attended with her husband, Bobby Brown (no relation to Asiel).

Asiel, as I told you the other day, also visited Houston last year when she was detoxifying at the Miraval Resort in Arizona. Spies spotted him proselytizing around the hot tub. Proselytizing is different than schmoozing, by the way. It's a shmooze with a shove.

Whatever mindset Whitney returns with from visiting the Black Hebrews in Dimona, Israel, one thing is for certain: She has been told at least once here in America that Asiel and her Israeli host, the group's leader Ben Ammi Carter, are part of the same organization. A big argument for the BH's is that they are non-violent peaceniks.

Indeed, a more realistic description of the Black Hebrews makes them sound like characters from a Christopher Guest mockumentary. They are actually "polygamist vegetarians." Personally, I think this is because so many wives and kids makes going to the butcher prohibitively expensive.

But make no mistake. The Israeli gang is very much connected to the American one, which I told you the other day has a frightening criminal history in this country. Asiel is one of their American ambassadors in a more far-reaching scheme than Ben Ammi is given credit for. Still, one of Ben Ammi's operations is a choir — that's right, a choir — which tours Israel giving concerts. One of his goals is to get that choir to sing back up for Whitney on a proposed Christmas special. I kid you not.

Bowie, Others May Face Financial Trouble

There's trouble brewing for a bunch of rock stars beginning with David Bowie.

Six years ago, Bowie was the pioneer in something called securitization. An investment broker sold bonds against the value of Bowie's records and songs to raise money for the rocker. The deal netted $55 million and coined the phrase "Bowie Bonds." The broker, David Pullman, wound up leaving his firm and striking out on his own.

Since then, others — notably the Isley Brothers, Ashford & Simpson and James Brown — have been securitized in deals made by Pullman.

But now Moody's Investor Service, which rates the fitness of bonds to be sold on the market, says it will downgrade "Bowie Bonds." This is because of two things: one — the record business is in dire straits, meaning the albums aren't selling. Who could have foreseen in 1997 that in 2003 everyone would be downloading for free, not buying, those albums?

Worse, though is Moody's mysterious comment that they are also downgrading an unnamed financial backer of the bonds. There was also the startling announcement that only $14 million worth of bonds have been sold of Bowie's $55 million. Someone is holding the bag for $41 million of Let's Dance albums essentially.

There's undoubtedly more to come.

Jacko 'Bankruptcy' Story Redux

A year ago, this column did copious amounts of work investigating Michael Jackson's finances. Some of the information came from court papers filed in a lawsuit instigated by Jackson's former business manager, Myung Ho Lee. As soon as we reported the story, the papers were sealed by the court. Big surprise.

Now that the court case is coming to fruition on June 18, the story is back. And I mean, it's back like it's brand new. But everything — every single word of the "new" reports — comes from our first column on July 26, 2002. That story was picked up a few days later by The New York Post and writ big with a color picture and everything.

Still, the wire services today are running it again as if none of that ever happened. They seem to be getting the information from the law firm representing Lee. I guess this is a tactic to scare the Jackson camp into settling before the expensive trial starts. So far it hasn't worked.

Jackson's lawyers, on the ropes from losing another lawsuit a couple of months ago, are working hard to win this one. They're going to argue that Lee wasn't an authorized manager and so had no right to charge Jackson anything for his services.

This legal face off should be interesting, to say the least. In the meantime, though, it's even more interesting to see how many times the press can be fooled into running the same story. Hey folks: They're all getting it from this Web site!