Published November 20, 2003
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Culminating a monthslong criminal probe, Santa Barbara County officials issued a warrant for pop superstar Michael Jackson's (search) arrest for multiple counts of child molestation. The singer, who has not been arrested, was urged to turn himself in to authorities.
"Get over here and get checked in," District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. said at a news conference. Jackson was believed to be in Las Vegas working at a recording studio.
A statement issued Wednesday by Jackson's spokesman Stuart Backerman called the allegations "outrageous" and "false."
"These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom," the statement said.
The 45-year-old "King of Pop" was accused of multiple counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. A decade ago, Jackson was also accused of molestation but was never charged because the youngster refused to testify.
The arrest warrant was issued following an extensive search of Jackson's Neverland Ranch (search), which happened while the singer was in Las Vegas during the production of a music video. Bail for the singer was set at $3 million.
Jackson was filming the video with R&B singer R. Kelly (search), US Weekly magazine told Fox News on Wednesday. Kelly has himself been the focus of a child-porn probe.
A Media Stakeout
A throng of media watched the arrival of airplanes at Santa Barbara Airport. Several law enforcement vehicles also were parked on the field, but there was no sign of Jackson by nightfall.
"I can confirm that he has not been arrested," Sgt. Chris Pappas of the sheriff's department said late Wednesday. "We don't see any further developments occurring tonight."
Sneddon would not say when or where the alleged crimes took place or how old the youngster was. He said an affidavit outlining the details will be sealed for 45 days.
But Brian Oxman, an attorney who has represented the Jackson family over the years, told CBS that the case involves the alleged molestation of a 12-year-old boy at Jackson's Neverland Ranch, the storybook playground where the singer has been known to hold sleepover parties with children. Oxman is not representing Jackson.
CBS immediately pulled a Jackson music special planned for next Wednesday on his greatest hits and the impact on pop culture of the former child star who got his start with his brothers as a member of the singing-and-dancing Jackson 5.
"Given the gravity of the charges against Mr. Jackson, we believe it would be inappropriate at this time to broadcast an entertainment special," the network said.
Earlier in the day, authorities said they were negotiating Jackson's surrender with his lawyers, which Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson said must happen within "a specified period of time." He declined to say how long that would be.
"I believe he's willing to cooperate with us," the sheriff said.
Authorities also asked Jackson to hand over his passport when he turns himself into authorities.
The announcement of the arrest came at an often-jovial news conference with Anderson and Sneddon. The prosecutor looked sheepish after gesturing so forcefully he knocked over a news organization's microphone. At another point, he ridiculed a suggestion from Jackson that the allegations were timed to coincide with the release of his latest album.
"Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music," Sneddon said.
Asked about parents who let their children go to Neverland for sleep-overs, the sheriff responded, "My advice is don't do it." The remark drew laughter, and Sneddon added, "None of our kids are there."
Backerman blasted law enforcement in the statement he released on behalf of the pop singer.
"We are disturbed by the levity of the environment surrounding the announcement of these very serious charges," Backerman said. "When the evidence is presented and the allegations proven to be malicious and wholly unfounded, Michael will be able to put this nightmare behind him."
A 12-Year-Old Victim
The arrest warrant is for a violation of Section 288(a) of the California Penal Code (search), which prohibits lewd or lascivious acts with a child under age 14, according to Sneddon.
"There will be charges filed against Mr. Jackson," Sneddon said.
Sneddon would not give any details about the victim or about where the alleged incidents of abuse occurred.
But various media reports suggested the investigation and warrants stemmed from molestation allegations brought against the singer by a 12-year-old boy who had stayed at the ranch.
The boy's family was said to be in seclusion, Fox News learned, and wasn't looking for any monetary settlement but instead wanted justice served through the court system.
Sneddon said authorities were seeking other victims of sexual abuse by Jackson, and asked for the public's help in finding them.
If convicted, Jackson could face three to eight years for a single count of molestation, and two years each for any subsequent count.
High-profile attorney Mark Geragos, who is currently representing accused double-murderer Scott Peterson, is Jackson's lawyer in this case and is reportedly involved in negotiating the terms of his surrender, according to Backerman.
This is the second child molestation accusation brought against the pop singer in the past decade. The earlier charge, in 1993, was dropped when the 13-year-old boy refused to testify; a $20 million settlement was reached the following year instead.
Since then — and because of that case specifically — the law in California has changed regarding young victims of sexual abuse. Now they can be forced to testify. In this case, the victim is cooperating with authorities, according to Sneddon.
"I'm sad that there's another victim out there. I feel bad for the family and bad for the victim," said Sneddon, who was also the district attorney in the first child abuse case against Jackson.
The affidavit supporting the warrant will remain sealed for 45 days for completion of the investigation, the officials said.
A 14-Hour Raid
The arrest warrant comes a day after an extensive raid on the singer's Neverland Ranch, which began Tuesday morning and lasted well into the night for a total of 14 ½ hours. Authorities said the search and subsequent arrest warrant came after a monthslong criminal probe.
Two other locations in Southern California were also searched for items that would "corroborate the victim's statement," the sheriff said.
On Tuesday, after news of the raid broke, Backerman issued a statement saying: "We cannot comment on law enforcement's investigation because we do not yet know what it is about. Michael will, as always, cooperate fully with authorities in any investigation even as it is conducted, yet again, while he is not home."
Jackson family attorney Brian Oxman told Fox News on Wednesday that he did not believe the accusations were true and thought it was all a "grudge" on the part of the district attorney against the pop star.
"I believe in Michael," he told Fox News.
Oxman himself was not representing Jackson, though he said he had spoken with members of Jackson's family and had represented them for 14 years.
"It is very upsetting to them," Oxman said on a morning news show Wednesday. "They are just really very shocked by this entire incident and they go, 'Here we go again.' Michael is just a sitting target for people to take potshots at him."
The Jackson family, including Michael, were in Las Vegas early Wednesday and were aware of the arrest warrant, said Steve Manning, a family spokesman.
"It's very unfortunate. They feel very bad about it, but they support him wholeheartedly. They stand behind him 100 percent," Manning said.
Jackson questioned the timing of the raid, which happened the same day Epic Records released "Number Ones," a greatest hits collection featuring Jackson's new single "One More Chance."
Sneddon said the timing of the raid and arrest warrant had nothing to do with Jackson's career.
He said service of the warrant was delayed because authorities were busy dealing with thousands of people who descend on Santa Barbara for Halloween.
"We've been ready to do this for some time," the district attorney said. "This has nothing to do with anything else going on in his life."
Sixty to 70 personnel from the Santa Barbara County sheriff's and district attorney's offices served a search warrant about 11:30 a.m. EST (8:30 a.m. PST) Tuesday, Sgt. Chris Pappas said.
The singer and his three young children were not at Neverland during the raid, but instead were in Las Vegas where Jackson had been filming a music video for the past three weeks.
The $12.3 million Santa Ynez Valley (search) property, which has a mansion, its own zoo and amusement park with bumper cars, a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel, has often been the site of children's parties. Investigators searched only select locations on the property, said sheriff's Cmdr. Bill Byrne.
A source told Michael Bryant, a correspondent for the syndicated "Extra" television show, that the boy said to be behind the alleged accusations recently approached a Los Angeles law firm and claimed inappropriate conduct by the pop superstar.
A rival TV show, "Celebrity Justice," reported that it was the 12-year-old boy's revelations during a therapy session that were behind the search warrant, the show's producers told Foxnews.com.
The district attorney and sheriff would not confirm those reports.
The boy, who had spent time at Neverland Ranch, entered therapy several months ago and disclosed information the therapist felt compelled to report to authorities, according to "Celebrity Justice" sources.
Under California law, if a health-care practitioner "knows or reasonably suspects" a child to be a victim of abuse, the practitioner must report the abuse to law enforcement authorities "as soon as practically possible."
History of Abuse Accusations
If the reports of child-molestation allegations are true, it would be the second time the pop singer has faced such an accusation. In 1994, he reportedly paid about $20 million to the boy to settle the case, in which criminal charges were never filed.
In the criminal complaint filed in that case, the 13-year-old boy claimed Jackson kissed and molested him on several occasions while the two were in bed together and said he once took a bath with the pop singer. He said the situation got "out of hand."
Jackson, who's had international hits with the albums "Thriller" (1982), "Bad" (1987) and "Dangerous" (1991), saw his career begin to collapse after the 1993 allegations.
Last year there was a public outcry after Jackson, a former child star, stunned fans by dangling his baby, whom he reportedly calls "Blanket," from a hotel window in Germany. The child's face was covered with a towel.
Jackson called the incident a "terrible mistake," and Berlin authorities said the actions were not punishable.
Not much is known about Prince Michael II, whose mother has not been identified. The singer's 6-year-old son, Prince Michael I, and 5-year-old daughter, Paris, were born during his marriage to Debbie Rowe, his plastic surgeon's nurse, which ended in 1999.
He was also married to Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis Presley's daughter, between 1994 and 1996.
Jackson routinely keeps the children's heads covered with cloth while escorting them in public, saying he wants to protect them from the public eye. He himself usually wears a surgical mask.
As of December 2002, when Jackson interacted with young fans outside a lawsuit hearing in Santa Maria, Calif., he was still inviting children to his home for parties.
Jackson is also connected to Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano (search), who began serving federal prison time Monday for possessing illegal explosives. Pellicano is being investigated about whether he secretly taped conversations of celebrities and their lawyers, but has refused to name his clients.
Pellicano, 59, worked for Jackson as a spokesman and security consultant during the abuse investigation.
A Fallen 'King of Pop'
The "King of Pop" amassed a half-billion-dollar fortune over the past 20 years, but his former financial advisers said in a lawsuit last spring that he is saddled with debt and teetering near bankruptcy. Current financial advisers have denied that claim.
Jackson has appeared weak and ghostly pale at many of his recent public appearances, and his own attorneys have said he has been involved in nearly 1,000 lawsuits.
In June, he suffered a suspected anxiety attack during a visit to Indianapolis to deliver a deposition in a lawsuit and his doctor said the singer was weak, dizzy and dehydrated.
In a separate Santa Maria lawsuit hearing earlier this year, the singer hobbled into court on crutches with his left foot wrapped in bandages because of swelling from what he described as a spider bite and delayed testimony because he said he was too ill to appear in court.
When he did finally testify, he giggled during questioning and made comical faces at people in the courtroom.
In a television documentary broadcast earlier this year, Jackson said he had slept in a bed with many children.
"When you say bed, you're thinking sexual," the singer said during the interview. "It's not sexual — we're going to sleep. I tuck them in. ... It's very charming, it's very sweet."
Fox News' Anita Vogel, Catherine Donaldson-Evans, Trace Gallagher, Marla Lehner, Jennifer D'Angelo, Paul Wagenseil and The Associated Press contributed to this report.