As I told you Wednesday, the auction of Michael Jackson's ranch may be forestalled by a loan extension offered by his loan holder Fortress Investments.
Jackson's attorney L. Londell McMillan told the Associated Press Thursday such a deal was in the works. But it's not done yet. There's still no recording at the Santa Barbara County Assessor's Office. Until that's changed, Jackson remains in foreclosure.
On Wednesday, I told you that Jackson's Neverland Ranch and its $23 million lien are part of a weird sequence of events. This included a California investor's putting $46 million into escrow for Neverland, thinking he was dealing with Jackson’s representatives.
He wasn’t. And the investor just narrowly avoided being bilked for close to $5 million.
How did this all start? It turns out the investor’s rep, Jason Cestaro, got involved based on information sent to him right from the office of Jackson’s former manager, Raymone Bain, in February.
Cestaro, sources say, asked for and received crucial personal financial information about Jackson to make the decision to loan him so much money.
Cestaro, I’ve now learned, depended on a letter he was shown Feb. 13 on stationery that simply read at the top: Michael J. Jackson. It was signed by Diane Simmons Williams, a certified public accountant who not only was the wife of ex-District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, but billed herself as a "Financial Consultant" to Jackson.
What Cestaro didn’t know is Williams also is an employee of Bain, which is how she had access to sensitive information about Jackson.
The notarized letter was presented to Cestaro by Kevin D. Kinsey, a Los Angeles finance rep, as evidence of Jackson’s income.
It was addressed "To whom it may concern" and outlined Jackson’s income as almost $30 million a year, including $5 million royalties from "Sony’s Records" and $11 million from Jackson’s stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Jackson’s other income, Williams stated in the letter, included between $3 million and $4 million from BMI (airplays) royalties and $10 million to $11 million generated by Jackson’s MiJac Publishing, a separate entity.
Cestaro was thrilled to learn this, I’m told, but concerned that the letter was old. It was dated July 11, 2007. He called Williams, whose phone number was at the bottom of the letter, asking for an updated version. She balked and recommended he speak with one of Bain’s assistants, who put him off to another.
Nevertheless, Cestaro deposited the $46 million in escrow as an act of good faith.
Cestaro would not learn until later that Williams’ letter misrepresented Jackson’s finances: She’d omitted all that Sony income, plus the MiJac was being paid — but not to Jackson. It was going directly to paying off more than $330 million in loans secured by MiJac Publishing. Jackson had no access to it as actual cash, which was implied.
Several phone calls and e-mails to Williams on Wednesday went unreturned to this column, including two to the office of her husband.
In the meantime, despite the insistence of everyone involved, Neverland still is scheduled to be auctioned on March 19 in Santa Barbara, Calif. The Notice of Trustee’s Sale, first posted on the county’s Web site by Fortress Investments on Feb. 25, remains active.
The Anthony Pellicano trial is getting hotter in Los Angeles despite the laughable Los Angeles Times trying to get rid of it. On March 8, it actually ran a story titled "Pellicano Trial Is Yesterday’s News."
The trial, however, is Today’s News: Thursday morning, Pellicano aide and Maxim girl Tarita Virtue’s very informative testimony is being interrupted for testimony from actor/comedian Garry Shandling. His attorney may be the eminent David Boies.
Shandling’s role will be to further solidify the relationship between Pellicano and Paramount chief Brad Grey. Courtroom ears will be perked to hear if Shandling also mentions attorney Bert Fields.
Grey’s name has been much on Virtue’s lips since she began her testimony. She’s already testified that Grey hired Pellicano to dig up dirt on producer Bo Zenga over "Scary Movie." I told you two years ago that the government can line up wiretaps Pellicano made of Zenga, his family and lawyer that coincide with depositions in the "Scary Movie" lawsuit between Grey and Zenga.
In that case, Zenga claimed to have been hired by Grey executive Peter Safran to produce "Scary Movie," a Miramax/Dimension movie released in 2001. Dimension bought the idea and went ahead with the project.
Zenga claimed he had an oral agreement to be partnered with Bernie Brillstein and Grey as producers on the film. When he felt he'd been cut out by Brillstein-Grey, Zenga sued them for breach of contract.
There’s going to be more made of that whole episode shortly.
Shandling and Grey have a bad history, and that will be the focus of his testimony. Boies represented Shandling in a lawsuit against Grey when the latter was the former’s manager during the era of "The Larry Sanders Show."
Boies wrote about the eventual settlement he cut with Grey’s lawyer, Fields, in one of his books. Of course, at the time, Boies had no idea Pellicano allegedly was wiretapping everyone involved in the case. So that should be interesting.
Virtue’s other virtue so far was in discussing Pellicano’s passwords and code names for clients. When U.S. Attorney Dan Saunders put up an exhibit in which the word "sissy" came up, according to a blog posting by reporter Alison Hope Weiner, in reference to Tom Cruise, Saunders asked if that was Cruise’s code name. Virtue replied that she guessed that it was. Zenga’s code name was "Gypsy Boy."
Model/druggie/celebrity-for-no-reason Kate Moss is such a concoction of the British press that she almost doesn’t seem real. But there she was on Tuesday at the Waverly Inn, looking small and with a complexion that said Jet Lag. She was dining with friends, including the never-boring and always completely striking Naomi Campbell, who cut quite a swath through the restaurant.
Outside, the freelance paparazzi went nuts when Moss appeared and strode past them and into a waiting car. I can’t figure out why a picture like this would be worth anything, but we were reassured by those in the know that there’s good money to be made from this. …
Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife and the mother of Julian Lennon, is one of those fun, gracious people you look forward to seeing. So imagine my surprise to run into her at May Pang’s book party Tuesday night at The Cutting Room. May has just published her extraordinary book of John Lennon photos, called "Instamatic Karma." Cynthia came all the way from Spain to support her.
All sorts of people also were at the jam-packed event including Yoko Ono’s former employee and litigant Fred Seamans, Eddie Briganti of the famous Rascals, various musicians and famed photographer Mick Rock. Cynthia told me, by the way, that Julian is doing great and working on new music. ...