The judge ruled today that some of Michael Jackson's rumored but never-proven "prior acts" with children can be presented in court as evidence. But that might not help the prosecution.
The judge ruled that Jason Francia, the son of Jacko's former Neverland maid Blanca Francia, can take the stand in the current trial. The prosecution also may present testimony about past allegations against the pop star involving four other boys.
But Blanca Francia, who said in 1994 that she saw Jackson engage in inappropriate activity with her son and other children, has a fuzzy and questionable history to her allegations.
On Friday, I told you that dozens of hours of fascinating tape-recorded phone calls made by a National Enquirer reporter have surfaced.
The reporter, Jim Mitteager, who is now deceased, left the tapes to a private investigator named Paul Barresi.
Barresi has combed through them, made transcripts and is uncovering decade-old material that still resonates today.
He found that Blanca Francia used a National Enquirer reporter as her translator when she was interviewed by the police in 1994.
She sold her story to the Enquirer, as well as to the now-defunct TV show "Hard Copy," and got $2 million from Jackson and $20,000 from the show.
The prosecution is counting on Francia and her son.
After the story of the first boy broke in 1993, Francia came forward with allegations that she had seen Jackson in a sleeping bag with her son and showering with other boys in 1990. Her saga was featured in Mary A. Fischer's watershed 1994 article in GQ, "Was Michael Jackson Framed?"
Before she settled with Jackson, the maid was called to testify in the civil suit brought by the family of the 1993 accuser against the pop star. She admitted to embellishing her story to "Hard Copy" and to being paid for it as well.
On the tapes, Barresi discovered that Enquirer reporter Lydia Encinas was with the maid when police officers came to interview her.
In a January 1994 conversation, Enquirer editor David Perel asked Mitteager if anything new was breaking on Encinas' involvement in the interrogation.
"No. Just hope the cops don't freak out when they see the story."
"They sort of know what's coming," Perel replied.
What was coming was an Enquirer story about Francia that was penned by Encinas.
It's unclear whether the cops knew that Encinas was a tabloid reporter, or that she had a financial interest in the maid's veracity. The Enquirer was paying big bucks for any information about Jackson at the time.
At one point on the tapes, an editor at the Globe is heard saying to Mitteager: "Jim, when you go in on these deals, talk big money and don't back off. I mean, talk 50 grand. We need [Jackson's former manager] Frank DiLeo telling all, at $100,000, if we can get him. We need all of Jacko's celebrity pals. Anything they said.
"Every kid that has ever been with Jacko, we want to know who he is ... where he's coming from ... any pictures available. We want to put big offers to any member of the family. We need to go with the big money. The big offers. It's the biggest story since [Elvis] Presley's death."
On March 23, 1994, Perel told Mitteager: "The reason why Lydia Encinas is involved is because she speaks Spanish and she's got a pretty good relationship going with Blanca. ... The cops took Lydia yesterday to Blanca's house. [Blanca has] only got a sixth-grade education, so there is a problem there. Blanca is very distrustful. ... The cops are looking for copies of agreements between Jackson and parents."
(See Friday's column for our story about a faked agreement touted by the tabloids.)
Russ Birchim, one of the police officers who interviewed the maid, denied that Encinas was present at the questioning.
"Lydia Encinas was not the translator. But I did meet with her in Los Angeles," he said.
Birchim, who is on the prosecution's witness list, did not explain why he had met with a National Enquirer reporter in the first place. All efforts to contact Encinas have failed.
Barresi is sitting on a gold mine of information, not only about Jackson, but other celebrities as well. He remains a staunch supporter of Mitteager. He's aware of the crucial role that Mitteager's tapes could play in rehashing scandals of a decade ago.
In fact, Mitteager's tapes provide an incredible history that shows how the tabloids worked to spark interest in sensational stories 10 years ago when "Hard Copy" and the original "A Current Affair" were in vogue.
By opening the door to this story, District Attorney Tom Sneddon may bite off more than he can chew. The maid, her payment from "Hard Copy" and the resulting lawsuits are less about Jackson than about the greed and ambition that surround him.
In unraveling the mysteries of Jackson's "prior acts," Sneddon could leave room for defense attorney Thomas Mesereau to openly investigate the connections among all these people. And that would make a much more interesting story than almost anything we've heard so far.
If Michael Jackson didn't like Eminem's "Just Lose It" video, I imagine he won't be too thrilled to hear Beck's new song "Scarecrow."
The song is included on the rocker's new album, "Guero," which will be released tomorrow. The much-hyped CD turned up in some retail locations like Starbucks over the weekend.
"Scarecrow" leaps off the album because it begins with eerie sound effects like those from "Thriller," then is sung to what suspiciously recalls the bass line from Jackson's famous hit "Billie Jean" — so much so that Beck could wind up providing Jackson with some cash since there is no credit for a sample in the "Guero" booklet.
But the lyrics to "Scarecrow" — an obvious reference to the lanky, thin, Judy Garland- and "Wizard of Oz"-obsessed Jackson — are what really hit home:
"Sometime the jail can't chain the cell/ and the rain's too plain to tell/ all alone by a barren well/ the scarecrow's only scarin' himself."
Also: "What gives you comfort now/ might be the end of you then."
Ouch! At least, Tom Sneddon can take comfort that someone's taking a shot at Jacko. The Santa Barbara County district attorney is still smarting from a song Jackson sang about him on his "HIStory" album in 1995.