It’s apparently a secret known in the world of Michael Jackson to only a select group of former advisers. In court in Santa Monica, however, where Jackson is being sued by a former associate, it’s a story coming out into the open bit by excruciating bit.
Sometime after he was arrested in November 2003, Jackson sent $300,000 to a family living in South America. What he got for his money is unclear, but my sources say it was part of a continuing payout to a family who felt their child was abused by the pop star.
The jury in the Jackson case has heard several allusions to the payoff, although direct parties to the trial are not allowed by Judge Jacqueline Connor to address the subject as anything other than “a personal matter.”
The reason is that this is a financial lawsuit, and at least two of the sitting jurors stated during their interviews that they believe Jackson is a child molester.
But my sources insist this personal matter was indeed a payoff, and likely one made by Jackson to people he once knew very well. In the past, Jackson has settled with one family for in excess of $20 million and another in excess of $2 million.
During his child molestation trial last year, Jackson was revealed to have slept in beds with underage boys on countless occasions, all unsupervised by parents. In one case, the sister of one young man whom Jackson had befriended testified that her brother had spent 365 nights in Jackson’s bed. The jury acquitted him on all counts of child molestation.
In this case, yesterday, Jackson’s recently fired accountant, Alan Whitman, confirmed that he had received a request for the $300,000 payment from Jackson but declined to say what it was for.
He claimed, as I’m told he did in depositions, that he “chose” not to know what the money was for after it was explained to him in partial detail.
Similar testimony was given by former Jackson financial advisor Alvin Malnik, who said that Jackson called him and asked him to have associate F. Marc Schaffel take care of an “urgent situation” for $300,000.
Malnik — who had authorization power for expenditures — instructed Whitman to pay the money back to Schaffel, although that never happened.
Whitman has said in depositions and in trial that he paid money back to Schaffel per Malnik’s instructions but stopped the installment when the funds were not available.
In the end, Schaffel — who’s suing Jackson for $3.8 million — testified yesterday that he went to South America on Jackson’s instruction, withdrew $300,000 from his own overseas accounts and paid the debt as directed by Jackson.
Now, of course, Schaffel wants his money back. Schaffel, it can be argued, was just the messenger. Jackson presumably knew what he was getting in exchange for his payout.
This was not unlike Schaffel’s role as described last year in the Arvizo case. In that case, Schaffel again laid out money for Jackson to support the Arvizo family for several months. In the end, Jackson never repaid Schaffel the full amount owed, triggering this lawsuit.
Schaffel, it was revealed during testimony in the 2005 case, often acted at Jackson’s request to lay out money while at the same time not often knowing the purpose for the expense.
I am told with great certainty by insiders that Jackson sent the money to South America to keep a parent and her son quiet in late November 2003, right after Jackson’s arrest for child molestation in the Arvizo case.
The implication is that this additional money was paid to a family that had already left the United States and made a deal with Jackson long ago — but was now being sought by prosecutors in the Arvizo case as witnesses to support their "prior acts" case.
The concern at the time may have been that the family in question had been on Jackson’s payroll for a long time. At the time of the pop star’s arrest in November 2003, however, Jackson evidently felt it was a good time to move them again rather than risk their discovery by either the media or authorities.
The Santa Monica jury also saw e-mail communication between Whitman and Jackson’s then-attorney Mark Geragos. In the e-mails, Geragos gives approval to Whitman to pay for the "travel expenses" for Schaffel related to that transaction.
Insiders say Geragos likely knew what the money and Schaffel’s trip were for, as did Jackson’s then-manager Dieter Wiesner. Schaffel may have just delivered the money as directed, and left.
In fact, Whitman testified that initial payments to Schaffel of $50,000 apiece from Jackson’s accounts were being “termed” as reimbursement for Schaffel’s layouts of other expenses relating to two FOX TV specials.
Sources say that this episode, which may very well be known to Santa Barbara prosecutors, could be one huge reason Jackson is afraid to return to California. He is roaming Europe, having lost his year-old free ride in Bahrain.
The Schaffel case continues Thursday in Santa Monica, although I cannot understand why Jackson doesn’t borrow the money and settle out of court. More testimony in this direction, no matter how oblique, cannot be good for him.
I'm sad to report the untimely death of actor Benjamin Hendrickson, one of the stars of “As the World Turns.” He was 55 and, as fans of the show know, had some personal problems over the years. But for 20 years he played detective-turned-captain of the fictitious Oakdale, Ill., police department Hal Munson with unprecedented class and vigor.
Hendrickson won the 2003 Daytime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor and probably should have won more often than that. In a weird off-shoot of show biz, soap opera actors are generally scene chewers with little subtlety to their craft.
Hendrickson was one of those rare players who came to his performances without ego. Who knows? Maybe on set he was a terror. But what he put across (and this is true of most of the 'World Turns' tenured cast) was superior.
Hendrickson was not just a soap actor, either. He memorably played the father in David O. Russell’s debut effort, “Spanking the Monkey.” He also appeared on Broadway in the title role of “The Elephant Man” after he understudied David Bowie.
The problem is, you don’t get much respect as a soap actor, even if you’re a good one. But Hendrickson deserved it more than ever. Rest in peace.
Vanity Fair sent its best writer, Leslie Bennetts, to interview two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank. The results are startling revelations about Swank’s divorce from actor Chad Lowe, and I don’t think they do much for Swank.
She says Lowe is “sober” after overcoming demons, but that his addiction — whatever it was — tanked the marriage.
I have to speak up a little in defense of Chad Lowe. When he married her, Lowe had no idea Swank would become an overnight Oscar darling with a runaway career. He was always a hard-working actor who labored in the shadow of his showier brother, Rob.
But Chad was just as talented and never traded on his brother’s fame. It must have been pretty hard to wake up and discover himself in that position again, this time with his wife.
I’m a little surprised Hilary “sold out” Chad that way. When I saw them together, he was nothing if not supportive and solicitous. It’s hard to imagine the Vanity Fair piece was agreed to by Swank as a means of hurting Lowe. Good guys are allowed to screw up once in a while, too.
Real rockers should circle next Wednesday, July 12, for a late-night gala at The Cutting Room. That’s when rocker, best-selling New York Times writer, former model and movie mama Bebe Buell celebrates her birthday in style with a blow-out performance with her new group.
Opening for Buell will be her husband, Jim Wallerstein, and partner David Matos’ hot new group, "Twin Engines." Boston favorites “The Rudds” are on the bill, too.…
We all know poker is the hot game these days. Last week in Vegas, I saw the poker rooms were filled to capacity in every major casino. Some use it for charitable purposes. A couple of weeks ago, The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis — created in 1992 by the family of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti — staged an evening in New York called Poker4Life. Poker star Mike Sexton showed up to lend a hand, and lots of money was raised. You can read all about it at www.thebuonicontifund.com/poker4life.xml ...