Santa Barbara authorities have raided the home of a producer of gay pornography and close business associate to Michael Jackson in connection with the pop star's recent arrest on multiple counts of child molestation, law enforcement sources said Sunday.
Police seized computers and other items Saturday from the Calabasas residence of F. Mark Schaffel, a Jackson advisor who produced and sold footage of Jackson holding hands with a boy at his Neverland ranch to Fox TV in February 2003, police sources said.
Santa Barbara detectives have been tracking Schaffel's movements since November, when they received a phone call from the FBI in Los Angeles informing them that Schaffel was under investigation for alleged involvement in child pornography in Budapest, law enforcement sources said.
Schaffel could not be reached for comment.
His lawyer, Tom Byrne, did not return calls over the weekend, but denied last month that Schaffel had done anything wrong.
"Mr. Schaffel has nothing to do with child porn," Byrne said. "I don't know anything about any investigation by the FBI or the Santa Barbara police."
The Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department declined to comment. Attorneys for Jackson did not return phone calls.
FBI officials also declined to comment, but law enforcement sources said the agency last year investigated a videotape filmed and produced by Schaffel that involved alleged child pornography. The outcome of the FBI probe was unclear, but sources said the latest charges against Jackson renewed the agency's interest in Schaffel's activities.
The initial FBI probe was launched in the autumn of 2001 after the agency received a complaint from someone who provided a copy of a videotape filmed by Schaffel in Budapest that allegedly included footage of boys performing sex acts, sources said. Los Angeles Police Department detectives were also given a copy of the tape at the time -- as were representatives of Jackson, sources said.
Santa Barbara detectives did not receive a copy of the Budapest video until December, after the boy featured in the Fox TV footage alleged to police that Jackson had molested him.
Schaffel's association with Jackson first surfaced publicly in September 2002 after The Times reported that he had produced the pop star's charity single, "What More Can I Give" -- featuring two dozen stars including Ricky Martin, Reba McEntire and Mariah Carey. Schaffel had never produced a musical recording before and had no experience in the record business.
At the time, Jackson was in a bitter, public feud with his record company, Sony Music Entertainment. He had organized a fan protest at Sony's New York headquarters and blamed "racist" executives at the company for blocking the release of the charity single, which he said was recorded to benefit victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
It was later learned that Sony had backed off the project at the request of Jackson's own advisors, after they discovered that Schaffel had produced and directed dozens of gay pornography videos.
Jackson's advisors investigated Schaffel and found out that he and his business partner, Paul Hugo, once owned an adult film house called Sosume Industries, which distributed movies made by Schaffel through a subsidiary called Renegade Video. Schaffel also operated several gay porn sites on the Internet.
But Jackson apparently held Schaffel in high esteem. The pop star singled out Schaffel for praise in the liner notes of his "Invincible" CD and secretly signed over the rights to "What More Can I Give" to Schaffel. That decision stunned Jackson's legal team, causing many to wonder why an entertainer known for shrewd deal making would simply give away valuable rights to a music-industry novice like Schaffel.
"It's no secret that my background is in the adult film business," Schaffel told The Times in an interview in September 2002. "I don't keep anything in my life hidden. I'm Michael's friend."
In an effort to convince Jackson to distance himself from Schaffel, the entertainer's attorney, John Branca, showed the pop star a copy of the Budapest video now in the hands of authorities, sources said. Ultimately, Jackson's attorneys fired Schaffel, notifying him in writing that the singer was terminating his contract because "information about Mr. Schaffel's background, previously unknown to Mr. Jackson, [had] just been discovered," according to a copy of the Nov. 15, 2001 legal notice.
But Schaffel didn't stay out of Jackson's life for long.
The producer resurfaced in the summer of 2002 to help Jackson create behind-the-scenes footage for an entertainment special, which included shots of the boy who later accused Jackson of molesting him. Following negotiations with several networks, Schaffel signed a $5-million deal for the pop star with Fox TV to air a Jackson special with the footage on Feb. 20, 2003.
The show was designed to discredit a Jackson special that aired Feb. 7 on ABC by British journalist Martin Bashir. The ABC documentary featured Jackson holding hands with the 12-year-old boy, who later claimed to have slept overnight in Jackson's bedroom. Schaffel's footage of Jackson at Neverland with the boy and his relatives painted the pop star in a better light.
In October, Jackson tried to resurrect the Schaffel-produced "What More Can I Give" charity project, premiering a video of the single at the Radio Music Awards. Jackson was honored with a Humanitarian Award on the program.
In November, Jackson began offering downloads of the song for $2 at a website, whatmorecanigive.com. It is unclear how Jackson can legally sell the song. Sources at Sony say Jackson has never secured permission to release the song by any of the artists on the recording. In addition, Jackson and Schaffel have never paid for the services of many individuals who worked on it, sources close to the project said.
And now, according to text published on the website, Jackson promises to donate a portion of the proceeds to a charity called Music For Giving, which the star says was created to "support children's literacy, education and enrichment programs through music and the arts."
Jackson is accused of seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent to a minor for the purpose of committing a felony. He faces up to 24 years in prison if convicted.