Of all the problems Michael Jackson could have right now, one of the biggest may be a ticking time bomb he hasn't though of: jailed private investigator Anthony Pellicano.
Some insiders question whether Pellicano's date of incarceration and the police raid on Jackson's Neverland ranch were connected. Pellicano went to jail on November 17th for illegal possession of weapons (grenades and plastic explosive). Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon brought his search warrant to Neverland the next day.
What's the connection? Pellicano did a lot of work for Jackson's attorney, Bert Fields, back in 1993, the same year Jackson settled his $20 million case with the family of a 13-year-old boy.
It has been widely reported that Pellicano surreptitiously taped a lot of phone conversations with his famous clients, and many of those clients have since been investigated by the FBI and other authorities.
My sources say Pellicano very likely may have set aside information about the Jackson case for a rainy day. It's possible — although no one involved will say for sure — that Pellicano gave material about Jackson from 1993 to the FBI.
One source who's an expert on the subject of Pellicano tells me, "It's very likely he turned over that stuff to the FBI and they gave it to Sneddon. It's too much of a coincidence that Pellicano went to prison and the next day the police were at Neverland."
Pellicano, of course, has his own tape-recording problems. He himself was recorded by National Enquirer reporter Jim Mitteager, who kept copies.
Mitteager died in 1997, but copies of his conversations with Pellicano have recently surfaced on Los Angeles radio. How many of those tapes exist and what they contain remains a mystery, but it probably won't for long.
As for any possible Jackson evidence, it's still not clear what bearing material from 1993 might have on the current case.
There is some thought that Sneddon will try to pressure the 1993 boy, now 23 and a college student in New York, to testify. But it's unlikely that the young man will cooperate even if he's subpoenaed.
Nevertheless, if Pellicano's material has been turned over to Sneddon, it could partially explain the D.A.'s Cheshire-cat smile at his various press conferences.
I can't sugar-coat this, but I also don't want to start a panicked rush for the doors. Nevertheless, the bad news is that Arista Records is in trouble and in danger of, if not closing, being downsized tremendously.
The official decision will come in about three weeks, but people at Arista are already worried, and with reason.
Just a short time ago, the label's chief executive, Antonio "L.A." Reid, was let go and not replaced. Since then, a major reshuffle at parent company BMG Music has put former Arista president and founder Clive Davis in charge of not only Arista but all of BMG North America.
I am told Davis is now weighing three different plans to combine Arista into RCA and J Records, the two other BMG major labels. I am told that Arista will not completely cease to function, and that it will remain a label in something more than name only.
But this much is true: A lot of people are about to lose jobs. There's no way around it.
Arista began in 1974 when Davis took over the moribund Bell Records (home to the Fifth Dimension in their heyday) and transformed it via a huge hit with Barry Manilow's "Mandy." The rest is history, right up through Whitney Houston and finally, Santana.
But Davis' departure for his own J Records created a problem at BMG when J became more successful than Arista almost overnight. Now, with many former Arista-ers at J, it's inconceivable that J would be the one of the three labels shut down. And RCA is the most famous brand name the company owns. So Arista will suffer.
One of the first things that Davis and RCA's Charles Goldstuck will have to address, of course, is what to do about Whitney Houston. Under Reid's regime, she signed a $100 million contract.
It's known that she received a chunk payment of $20 million a couple of years ago. I'm told she's gotten even more since then. Unfortunately, her album sales have been abysmal, and there are rumors that she wants to leave the label.
What Whitney can do, as quickly as possible, is get back together with Davis and plan an album and a marketing campaign reminiscent of her early successes.
Can it be done? The answer is yes, if she will listen to Davis, and wise up about her home life and health.
Will it happen? It's anyone's guess, but Whitney's in a good position for the moment. Davis isn't going to jettison her. She'll have to quit before he fires her. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Yes, that was Justin Timberlake playing to a crowd of just a couple hundred people last night on the rooftop of the Hyatt Hotel in West Hollywood. And that was his 'N Sync bandmate Lance Bass in the room, chatting up none other than Justin's future movie co-star Kevin Spacey.
The event — an hour-long show with Justin and his band — was sponsored by Guess? Jeans. I have no idea why, but it was such a hot ticket that when we finally got inside, we were just about the only press there.
Who did we find rocking their bodies? A very pregnant Courteney Cox Arquette, plus actors Aaron Eckhart, David Spade, Daryl Hannah and Dylan McDermott. "In America" director Jim Sheridan showed up too late and just gave up.
But inside it was a different story when I finally got to the bar for a soda and found the trifecta of the night negotiating for drinks. That would be the three, the only — Paris Hilton, sister Nicky, and Nicole Ritchie. What the heck, right? Did you think they'd be home studying?
No sign of Cameron Diaz, by the way. Or Britney what's-her-name.
Justin knows how to put on a show, covering his own hits and trying out the Rolling Stones' "Miss You." Justin does not shy away from a good falsetto note, which is brave of any guy who's ever heard the Stylistics.
Even Lance was dancing away with abandon, and with a very young lady he declined to describe as his girlfriend. He did concede that there would be a new 'N Sync album in 2005, after Justin finishes his role in the movie "Edison" and a new solo album.
"We just have to wait for him," said Lance, which was such a generous and reasonable observation I realized it will work out just fine. If only Lance hated Justin, it would have made a much better story!
It's Creative Artists Agency vs. International Creative Management tonight, but the winner may not matter much in the long run.
ICM's Ed Limato is having his annual party, where much of the talk will no doubt be about Limato's client Mel Gibson and his movie "The Passion of the Christ."
As Gibson reportedly moves more toward his own brand of Christian movies, Limato's agenting duties may be changing. But it won't matter. He already lives in a jaw-dropping mansion — jaw-dropping for many reasons beside size. (There is much talk about his garden sculptures.)
Many have told me they've been uninvited from Limato's shindig this year, the first in which Gibson is expected to attend.
Meanwhile, CAA's Bryan Lourd is having some kind of party, but his publicist said it was "very small and intimate." How small? How intimate? Will people be wearing pajamas? Or flossing communally? Unclear, but Eva Mendez is one of the lucky 55 who've made the cut.
But then, all the party talk is not about agencies this year. At last night's party for Donald Trump 's show "The Apprentice" — thrown by Gotham/Hamptons/Los Angeles Confidential publisher Jason Binn — the stars turned out in abundance.
Among the bold-faced names who dropped by the Bliss club on La Cienega: Dennis Hopper, Michael Keaton, Ron Silver, "Station Agent" star Peter Dinklage, Chris O'Donnell, Josh Charles, Louis Gossett Jr., former ballplayer Jose Canseco and Miramax's Harvey Weinstein. Someone told me they even spotted Larry King in the crowd, and I do know that Denise Rich was there hanging with Nikki Haskell.
The Confidential party was the best of many last night, topping even art dealer Larry Gagosian's annual event at his Beverly Hills gallery. Hopper also dropped in there, but it was Elton John — loyal to a fault — who glammed up the Helmut Newton show with a quick appearance, David Furnish at his side.
Also at Gagosian's: famed New York crooner Bobby Short, plus Lara Flynn Boyle, several artists and John Waters, preparing for his stint on Saturday as host of the Independent Spirit Awards.
Will Waters try any Jesus or Mel Gibson jokes?
"I don't think so," said the usually daring director. "I tried some tonight at another dinner and well...."
'Nuff said, John.