Yesterday there were reports that Michael Jackson's band of "kidnappers" had held a mother and her three kids (two sons and a daughter) "hostage" at the Country Inn and Suites in Calabasas, Calif., in Feb. 2003.
Calabasas is a beautiful, verdant suburb of Los Angeles, replete with million-dollar homes and gated communities. It's not exactly a back alley in South Central.
Several weeks after their expulsion from Neverland and Jackson's world, the family (the one at the heart of the current Jackson child-molestation case) told a lawyer that the elder son, 13, had been molested by Jackson and that he had also held the family hostage.
Prosecutors may have trouble with this episode if they ask the mother or kids exactly what they did during their "hostage" ordeal.
I have seen receipts that show that the family had a telephone in their hotel room and used it constantly during their five-night stay.
They also went to at least one movie at the Calabasas Edwards Cineplex 6, ate ice cream at a Cold Stone Creamery and had several meals at an Outback Steak House.
They walked to all these places, during which time any of the four family members could have asked for help if they were in trouble.
"The mother loved Outback and wanted to eat there all the time," my source says.
She also patronized Anchor Blue (a chain store) and shopped almost continuously at stores such as Robinson-May, Banana Republic, Wilson's Leather and Pacific Sunwear.
She may have also scored a hostage-drama first when she got a manicure and pedicure for herself and her teenage daughter (total cost: $51) before dining at Panda Express.
The Calabasas Country Inn adventure took place between Feb. 25 and March 2, 2003, far from Neverland and Michael Jackson.
This would certainly cut almost a week out of District Attorney Tom Sneddon's timeline, which has Jackson allegedly molesting the then-13-year-old boy between Feb. 20 and March 10 of that year.
Why did the family go to Calabasas in the first place?
After the boys were featured in the Martin Bashir documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," the family experienced a firestorm of bad publicity.
For two weeks the foursome stayed with Jackson behind the gates of Neverland, safely away from prying eyes. During that time, the mother evidently quarreled with Jackson's then-manager Dieter Wiesner.
She was incensed that her kids were featured in the Bashir piece without her signing a release, and angry that they were never paid for it. She wanted some kind of remuneration.
She told Jackson she wanted him to buy her an apartment in Solvang, which is near Neverland and far from the grubby East Los Angeles flat the family had abandoned.
But Jackson had a different idea.
My source says that he preferred to have the whole family leave, and asked his videographer Marc Schaffel to take the mother hunting for apartments closer to L.A.
Schaffel, who still has never met the mother or the children, assigned Frank Tyson and Vincent Amen, two slightly built and amiable 22-year-olds, to chauffeur them around and buy them whatever they needed.
(As far as anyone knows, no complaint or accusation has been filed alleging that either of these men carried a weapon of any kind — just a charge card.)
According to the meticulous receipts kept during the adventure, most of the week was spent outside the hotel.
The receipts show the group moved constantly during the day, and that real-estate hunting was mixed with eating and shopping, activities not generally associated with kidnapping.
But even confinement wouldn't have been so bad. Room 300 of the Country Inn, where the family stayed, is a duplex with two bedrooms, a loft and a kitchen. It also had a big-screen TV, on which family members watched three pay-for-view movies.
While there, the mother made more than a dozen calls to her children's school, five to her parents and others to her boyfriend (a U.S. Army major who worked in Westwood, about 30 minutes away).
They were not short calls, either. Several of them — all to the L.A. area — cost $24 or more, with one hitting the $46 mark.
Presumably, if the mother had mentioned that she and the children were being held hostage or against their will, someone might have alerted the authorities.
The family's schedule was a tight one during their "kidnapping."
On the afternoon of March 1, for example, the day consisted of a meal at 4 p.m. at Johnny Rockets ($33), followed by a 5:14 p.m. stop at Anchor Blue to buy knit tops (two for $24).
Later, a 5:55 p.m. snack stop at the Topanga Canyon Mall (coffee, water, Snapple) was followed by a 6:40 p.m. appearance at Baskin-Robbins ($9).
And at 7 p.m., the mother and her kids took in the movie "Old School" at the theater across from the hotel, racking up $32 in concessions. They topped the night off with another visit to Johnny Rockets ($26).
Jackson’s lawyers will try to portray him as trying to relocate the family to be rid of them, paying through the nose all the way. How else to explain a $415 charge at Banana Republic on Feb. 26, the same day the mother also spent $454 on Jockey underwear and $450 at the Jeans Outlet?
On that night, the family also managed to dine for $175 at the Black Angus Restaurant in Woodland Hills, before they were "forced" in a "conspiracy" to return to their plush digs.
The family — which at the time had made no allegations against Jackson and considered him their friend and "daddy" — was brought to Calabasas for a few days to do errands in Los Angeles.
The charges were made to a credit card belonging to Schaffel, and are clearly evidenced on credit-card bills, which may be significant.
"It's not like they used cash for a stealth mission," my source continued.
The family had two missions during its stay in the Los Angeles area. One was apartment hunting. The other was procuring passports for a trip to Brazil.
The prosecution will probably claim in its case that Schaffel and his team were going to spirit the family to Brazil to keep them there against their will.
But my sources say the family was keen to go on a short vacation out of the country, where the mother would be far from journalists' questions about the Bashir documentary, and that the mother could have easily vetoed the trip by simply saying no.
And her boyfriend (who is now her husband) could have called the police if he thought something was wrong. He did not.
Apparently, once they got to the passport office, the mother cut a long line, declaring, "Don't you know who we are? We're friends of Michael Jackson!"
Tomorrow: the Grammys and, at long last, Imelda Staunton!