Published March 25, 2005
Was there a kid who made a deal with Michael Jackson before his first accuser settled with the pop star for $20 million in 1993?
Tape recordings left behind by a deceased National Enquirer reporter would suggest there was, but on closer inspection, it turns out there probably wasn't.
In fact, the tapes show that there was a zealous push on the part of the supermarket tabloids 12 years ago to find any boy who might have been abused by Jackson.
This will be a disappointment for Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who has not been able to produce any other Jackson "victims" so far.
On Monday, Judge Rodney Melville will hold a hearing to determine whether or not Jackson's "prior" acts can be brought into this trial.
If they are allowed, what could they be and where did they come from? And are they real?
Sneddon is prepared to subpoena every ex-Jackson employee and cop who was involved in the first case, even those who've since sold their stories to the tabloids. The result could be a veritable list of the supermarket tabs' sources and leakers from a dozen years ago.
Like a tabloid Richard Nixon, National Enquirer and Globe writer Jim Mitteager taped most of his conversations about Jackson when he covered the story in 1993-94.
Mitteager, who was later dismissed from the papers for sexual harassment, talks to his sources and his editors very candidly.
The result is a revealing look at how the tabs salivated to get the most salacious story about Jackson, often disregarding the exact truth for kernels of plausible items that could be inflated into screaming front-page headlines.
Mitteager bequeathed the tapes to Paul Barresi, a self-styled investigator, trusting him to "do the right thing with them." Barresi thought the tapes had value, but could not have guessed what historical importance they would acquire.
Mitteager inadvertently kept a record of much of what is in the news today concerning Hollywood's underbelly. The tapes include anecdotes about many celebrities and lawyers, as well as incarcerated private eye Anthony Pellicano, who once worked for Jackson.
Barresi has a long history of involvement with the Jackson story.
In 1993, the pop star's former cook and housekeeper, Philip and Stella LeMarque, asked him to sell their story about sexual abuse at Neverland.
The LeMarques, who were slight acquaintances of Barresi, had only worked at Neverland for about 10 months and left after the first molestation case broke in 1991.
Like many disgruntled former Jackson employees, the LeMarques are now on Sneddon's witness list. The Quindoys, another couple who also sold their story, are ready to testify as well.
But Barresi realized early on that the LeMarques were probably not telling the truth.
"I concluded that it was all about the money and not about protecting a child from a predator," he told me.
The couple, he said, began embellishing their story when they came to believe they could get $500,000 for it. In the end, they received nothing.
Barresi wound up turning over his taped interviews with the couple to then-Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti. They are now in the hands of Jackson's prosecutor.
The coup de grace, Barresi says, happened later, when he listened to Mitteager's tapes. On one of them, it's noted that the LeMarques had tried to sell their story of child molestation at Neverland long before the first case broke in 1991.
"They couldn't get any takers," recalls Barresi. "But why didn't they just go to the police?"
Often the Globe printed stories, written by Mitteager, that were based on the flimsiest of evidence.
Mitteager, at least in the case of Jackson, relied heavily on a sketchy stringer named Taylea Shea. Her veracity consequently became integral to a lot of tabloid reporting at the time.
Shea, who seems to have gone by a number of aliases and had a long list of addresses and phone numbers, could not be contacted for this story, despite many tries.
Neighbors at the Los Angeles address at which she lived the longest do not remember her fondly. They recall a hustler and con woman who was always on the take.
"She should be in jail, if she hasn't been already," one former friend and neighbor said.
On one tape, Shea reads what sounds convincingly like a legal document drawn up between Jackson and a 12-year-old boy named Brandon P. Richmond, who is represented by his mother, Eva Richmond.
Brandon, according to the document, received $600,000 from Jackson. He and Jackson would no longer have any contact with each other.
Shea read the document, which is dated July 1992, to Mitteager the following year.
This would have been a blockbuster, if true, because it would make Brandon, not the differently-named boy who settled with Jackson in 1993, the first of Jackson's accusers.
Shea also says on the tape that the legal document came from the offices of famed Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields, Jackson's attorney at the time.
No reason is given why Jackson and Brandon Richmond should be separated. The implication, however, is clear.
The Globe published the story without using names. Over time, it was assumed that Brandon P. Richmond was in fact Brandon Adams, a boy who had appeared in Jackson's "Moonwalker" video.
Discussions on the tapes indicate that the tabloids also believed the two Brandons were one and the same. But there's a problem with Shea's story: Nothing adds up.
For one thing, a source close to Fields says the document uses language uncommon to their usual agreements.
Then there's the actual family.
According to the Adamses, whom I met in January, they don't know an Eva Richmond.
Brandon Adams' mother is named Marquita Woods. And Brandon's grandmother assures me she knows nothing of a $600,000 payment. The family has lived in a modest home in Baldwin Hills, Calif., for 30 years.
Brandon Adams, who is now 25, is a struggling actor. He appeared in "D2: The Mighty Ducks" and the indie film "MacArthur Park," and is currently working on building a music career.
"I wish I had $600,000," he said. "I'm broke."
The Adamses pointed out that Brandon never visited Neverland, just the Jackson family home in Encino.
For a short time they were friendly not only with the Jacksons, but with Sean Lennon and his mother Yoko Ono, who were also part of "Moonwalker." But the relationship seems to have ended well before Taylea Shea's big scoop.
Was Shea simply lying to Mitteager to collect a big fee? It would seem so.
On the tapes, Mitteager tells an editor that Shea also has "shocking" material about David Geffen and Keanu Reeves, among others. None of it would turn out to be true, but all of it was tabloid fodder that spread to more mainstream publications for a short time.
Curiously, nobody I spoke with who worked at the tabloids could remember Shea. And her own alleged main source — an attorney then associated with the office of Larry Feldman, the first accuser's lawyer — insists vehemently that she did not know Shea and had little knowledge of the case anyway.
Suddenly, the value of the Mitteager tapes takes on a new meaning.
Barresi, a sometime investigator and tabloid source in the past, is aware that he's in possession of materials that demonstrate how the supermarket tabloids operated in their heyday — the era of O.J. Simpson, Jackson and other scandals.
But one tabloid editor still in the business cautioned, "Don't paint all of us with the same brush. We did a lot of excellent work on Simpson."
Indeed, though it's hard to separate them in our minds, the Globe — then under a different owner — had a much lower standard of proof than did the Enquirer in the early 1990s. And Mitteager came from the Globe's mentality, according to sources with whom I have spoken.
At one point, in running down lists of kids who'd spent time with Jackson, Mitteager rattles off the name of a boy with the conviction that Jackson, who had befriended him, must have also acted inappropriately with him.
But it was only wishful thinking on the part of a tabloid reporter.
It turns out that the boy was 9 years old in 1993 and died shortly thereafter from leukemia. He'd met Jackson through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Even Jackson's staunchest critics would agree that it is hard to fathom how this boy could have been the object of the singer’s romantic interests.
I can't remember a time in the last 20 years when Broadway was buzzing with so much excitement: "Spamalot," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Doubt," "Democracy," "The Glass Menagerie," the forthcoming "Streetcar Named Desire," "All Shook Up."
Up in heaven Jerry Orbach, Cy Coleman, Adolph Green and Tony Randall must all be smiling big time.
Chief among the hot tickets is the revival of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Mike Nichols' film version is famous for the performances of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. They are indelible.
Lo and behold, here are Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin in the Taylor/Burton roles.
They completely reinvent the play, making it fresh as a daisy. They are on track to win Tonys in the drama category.
Irwin, who is usually mute in his solo work, is a revelation as the put-upon, yet resourceful George. His comic timing makes George a sadder, but more powerful character.
Turner's film career essentially ended around 1989 with "War of the Roses." She had a terrible reputation as a diva with whom nobody wanted to work.
But here we are, 15 years later. Turner has paid her dues. Her movie career upended. She's admitted to several kinds of self-abusive behavior. She did "The Graduate" on Broadway and clawed her way back.
Now you have to see her as Martha in "Woolf." She's a revelation, totally in control.
You know you're seeing a memorable, award-winning performance as soon as she hits the stage. That she's channeling Elaine Stritch is even more intriguing. Turner is back with a vengeance!