A deal to extricate Michael Jackson from his perilous financial situation is at hand.
I can tell you exclusively that the deal Jackson is being offered must be signed in the next few days, or he really will have his proverbial head on the chopping block.
I'm told Jackson will likely be presented with a deal sculpted by what I call his "permanent government" of lawyers and advisers, not the many shady characters who've come and gone over the years.
This "government" includes music publisher Charles Koppelman (who's also on the boards of Martha Stewart and Steve Madden's companies), attorneys John Branca and Al Malnik, Jane Heller of Bank of America and private investors represented by Goldman Sachs.
First, the deal: Sources say Jackson will be selling most of his 50 percent interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, aka the Beatles catalog.
In return, all his debts will be paid off, including $270 million in loans from Bank of America, all the debt piled up at his Neverland ranch and all loans against his own Mijac Music Publishing, which owns Jackson hits such as "Billie Jean" and "Beat It," as well as songs by Sly and the Family Stone and others.
Jackson will wind up with somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million in cash, I am told.
He will retain ownership of all his tchotchkes, including the $2 million King Kalla diamond watch he bought from David Orgell jewelers.
He will still reap a $7 million to $8 million annual income as well. He'll also get some income from Sony/ATV.
Sources point out that Mijac is now worth around $100 million, and will be an even better asset once it's free from debt.
Jackson's immediate plan, if he accepts the deal, is to downsize his Neverland costs. This would mean eliminating the zoo and cutting back the carnival.
Ultimately, the wisest thing to do — should he be found not guilty by the jury in his child molestation trial — is sell the ranch and move to a more reasonably sized estate with lower maintenance costs.
Of course, the pending plan does not cover money he owes to ex-wife Debbie Rowe. Jackson ceased paying alimony to her last year, and is involved in a court fight over that and custody of the couple's two children.
One easy remedy to his financial woes, of course, would be to stop incurring overwhelming legal debts.
I'm also told that Jackson is once again without counsel for his business dealings. The reason? As has often been the case lately, Jackson did not pay the lawyer who represented him most recently, sources say.
I am told there is some urgency to Jackson signing this deal.
Bank of America has, according to sources, lost its patience over his mounting debt. If for some reason he doesn't accept this latest proposal, I am told that he will really be in a dire situation.
Jackson, mind you, is not likely to sign this deal. Insiders tell me that he's encouraged his fans to spread the word that he's the victim of a "conspiracy."
"Michael doesn't want people to think he lost the Beatles," says a longtime friend. "He wants his fans to think it was stolen from him. He has to be the victim."
My sources also say that Jackson considers Branca one of the "conspirators," since his former attorney would reap a 5 percent commission on this sale — almost three times as much money as Jackson will make.
But push has come to shove, to use a cliché, and Jackson is unlikely to find a better deal.
The performance in court yesterday by the mother of the accuser in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial was a memorable one. It continues today.
Since Janet Arvizo married her boyfriend, U.S. Army Major Jay Jackson, she now prefers to be called Janet Jackson. You can't fault her for wanting to take her husband's name, but there is nevertheless a weird aspect to this in a time of celebrity stalking.
In her previous marriage, she hyphenated her maiden and married names, and was called Janet Ventura-Arvizo. It does make you wonder why she's not Janet Ventura-Jackson now.
Court began yesterday with two simultaneous huddles: prosecutors on the left and defense attorneys, plus Michael Jackson, on the right. Missing altogether was Brian Oxman, aka the sleeping lawyer. His absence was otherwise not notable.
Michael Jackson's only guest for the day was his mother Katherine, who was well turned out in a smart lavender suit. She took copious notes.
Cross-examination of Jay Jackson continued just a day after his public humiliation. Yesterday, he admitted that he only found out about his new wife's JCPenney lawsuit and six-figure judgment "in the press."
He also said that he had never heard the audiotape in which his now wife, then girlfriend, and her kids waxed poetic about Michael Jackson as a father figure.
Jay Jackson also seemed surprised to hear that Janet had several bank accounts. He'd been putting her welfare checks through his checking account because "she didn't even have a checkbook."
Ouch! He didn't understand that Arvizo had also at one time been getting her rent money from him and Mark Geragos, but had been forgiven entirely by her landlord. Ouch again! Look for these two on "Dr. Phil" soon.
It did turn out the aforementioned huddles concerned Arvizo, who decided to invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than incriminate herself for welfare fraud.
Interestingly, the state bailed on her right away. With the jury temporarily dismissed, prosecutor Ron Zonen told the judge: "We're not terribly interested in giving a grant of immunity."
Huh? After two years of working with Arvizo to get their case to this point, Zonen et al. let her swing in the Santa Maria wind.
Judge Rodney Melville heard discussion from both sides, ruled against a mistrial and wound up reading the jury a statement telling them that essentially Arvizo was a welfare cheat, but that they shouldn't let that affect their thinking.
And then came Arvizo herself. Her testimony was emotional, tearful, comic, raucous, inappropriate, determined and completely out there. The jury tuned out pretty fast. Some took notes, but most looked around the room, doodled or napped. It was not a good moment for the prosecution.
Sensing this, Zonen often chastised his own witness for volubility. Defense attorney Tom Mesereau, who previously had never seen an objection he didn't like, remained mute. He was happy to let Arvizo just carry on and dig her own grave one shovelful at a time.
There were perhaps three highlights of Arvizo's testimony: She welled up for no apparent reason when Zonen asked her to describe her one-room apartment in East Los Angeles. Just before her recollection of the private plane flight from Miami to Santa Barbara, during which she claimed to see Michael Jackson licking the head of her then 13-year-old son, she burst out in tears and exclaimed, "Don't judge me!"
But Arvizo's greatest moment came during her citing of a phrase she said Jackson and his associates uttered to her over and over: She must "appease the killers."
Who were these killers? Whom did they want to kill? We still don't know.
The prosecution played a tape recording of a phone call between Jackson aide Frank Tyson and Arvizo that was supposed to reveal the way Jackson's camp struck fear into Arvizo's heart. We all leaned in for a mention of the killers, but none came.
Tyson worked hard in the call (or calls) to convince Arvizo to return to Neverland, but there were none of the promised threats, just dull manipulation. Sadly, it was Arvizo who came off upside down and cloying, calling Michael Jackson "family" and repeatedly saying, "Family never leaves family behind. We're family."
She also repeated one of her trademark phrases: "When someone knocks on the door, it's either subpoenas or the killers."
Arvizo also gave a very physical performance, snapping her fingers in the air several times, holding her head in her hands, making dramatic noises and sighing loudly to punctuate nearly every answer, including the story of how she went for a leg waxing at a local salon during the time she claimed to be held against her will at Neverland.
Today she'll be back and possibly face cross-examination. That could include her tales of shopping sprees and manicures during her alleged kidnapping, the interview she denies she gave to British tabloid reporters and the reason why she let her son sleep in Michael Jackson's room after she saw the singer lick his head on an airplane.