Michael Jackson, the international pop sensation whose career has been eclipsed by his increasingly erratic behavior, surrendered to authorities Thursday and was booked on multiple counts of child molestation.
Arriving by private jet from Las Vegas, the reclusive singer was driven to the Santa Barbara County sheriff's office and escorted inside, his wrists handcuffed behind his back.
After being booked and surrendering his passport, he posted $3-million bail and was released, flashing a "V" sign before being driven away in a black SUV under police escort.
His attorney, Mark Geragos, said Jackson had denied the allegations that he had committed "lewd and lascivious" acts on a child younger than 14. He said Jackson had called the charges "a big lie."
"Michael is here," Geragos told a swarm of reporters outside the sheriff's office while Jackson was being processed. "He has come back specifically to combat these charges head-on. He is greatly outraged by these charges, and has authorized me to say the charges are categorically untrue. He looks forward to fighting this in court."
Authorities would say almost nothing about the case against Jackson, even declining to specify how many charges he faced.
The Sheriff's Department did release a copy of a booking photograph in which Jackson's sunken cheeks and surgically enhanced features appeared to be accentuated by makeup and lipstick. His thick, black, shoulder-length hair hung over and partly obscured his right eye.
Jackson, 45, is listed on the booking sheet as 5 feet 11 and 120 pounds.
A lawyer for the Jackson family has said the case stems from a 12-year-old boy's charges of molestation during visits to Jackson's 2,600-acre Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. The alleged victim has not been identified by authorities.
According to two sources, including a close friend of the boy's family, the boy alleges that Jackson served him wine and molested him several times last winter.
In addition to those sources, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney H. Russell Halpern said Thursday that he had had discussions with the boy's father, who lost custody after being accused of physically abusing two of his three children. The father pleaded no contest in 2002 to a single count of domestic violence.
Halpern said his client did not have any information about whether Jackson had committed the crimes that have been alleged. But he said the father had told him that Jackson had met the boy while the boy was being treated for cancer at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Jackson was visiting children and "became particularly interested in my client's son," the lawyer said. As time passed, Halpern said, Jackson, the boy and his parents became friends.
"My client thinks he's a good guy, and he was very proud of their friendship," Halpern said.
He said the father believes, however, that the boy's mother exercised poor judgment in allowing the child to stay overnight at Jackson's home.
The mother could not be reached for comment.
According to one person familiar with Jackson and the alleged victim's family, the boy's mother and other siblings were with him when he stayed at Neverland Ranch.
A documentary about Jackson that aired in the United States and Great Britain in February showed the singer holding hands with the boy as the child discussed his sleepovers at Jackson's ranch.
In the documentary, Jackson said the boy slept in his bed while he slept on the floor, but he also defended sharing a bed with children. "Why can't you share your bed? The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone," he said.
After the documentary aired, Jackson called it "terrible and unfair," and said the filmmaker had betrayed his trust.
"Everyone who knows me will know the truth, which is that my children come first in my life and that I would never harm any child," he said at the time.
When Santa Barbara authorities executed a search warrant Tuesday at Jackson's ranch, he was in Las Vegas, making a music video.
He returned voluntarily on Thursday, two days after an arrest warrant also was issued, arriving at Santa Barbara Airport in a Gulfstream jet that taxied to a hangar under intense media scrutiny. The jet pulled partially into the hangar, allowing Jackson to emerge and enter a car without being seen. He was then driven to the county jail.
In a brief announcement to a crowd of more than 100 reporters and photographers, Sheriff Jim Anderson announced that Jackson had been taken into custody at the airport at 12:05 p.m. The booking procedure lasted about 45 minutes.
After leaving the sheriff's office, Jackson flew back to Las Vegas, where clusters of curious pedestrians approached his black SUV as it paused in heavy traffic, touching the fingers that Jackson offered through a partially opened window.
Throughout the day, as Santa Barbara residents watched the unfolding saga on television, a few dozen local spectators -- mostly high school and college students -- joined the media crowd at the compound housing the sheriff's office and jail.
Two UC Santa Barbara students held a cardboard sign reading, "Moonwalk 2 Jail," a reference to Jackson's signature dance step.
"It's really the biggest news event of the year, other than the war," said Jared Lyons, 18, a student from nearby San Marcos High School, who had come with two friends after watching the media scrum on television.
A child star alongside his siblings in the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson soared into the pop world's stratosphere in the 1980s.
Although he released a new greatest hits package Wednesday, Jackson's career has been in decline for years, a victim of changing tastes and a series of lurid stories about his personal life. They included allegations in 1993 that he had molested a 13-year-old boy. Although no criminal charges were brought and Jackson insisted that he was innocent, he eventually settled a lawsuit brought by the alleged victim for a sum reported to be at least $15 million.
Among those jumping to Jackson's defense Thursday was his brother Jermaine, who heatedly charged in a brief interview with CNN, punctuated by an on-air obscenity, that the charges amount to "nothing but a modern-day lynching."
"The whole family supports Michael 100%, 1,000%," he said, adding, "Michael is in very strong spirits because he is innocent. My brother is not eccentric. We had an incredible, wonderful childhood."
Geragos, in a telephone interview, said Jackson was eager to face his accuser. An arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 9 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
"I spent quite a bit of time with him, and I can tell you he is strong and resolute and determined to fight what he considers to be absolutely scurrilous allegations," said the lawyer, who also represents Scott Peterson of Modesto, who is accused of killing his pregnant wife.
Geragos said Jackson had been outraged by the accusations.
"This is a gentleman who has spent the greater part of his life donating millions of dollars and devoting countless hours to benefiting children and those who are disadvantaged," he said. "That's the most hurtful thing of all of this. Michael Jackson doesn't have urges or desires to ever hurt or damage a child. He finds that utterly repulsive."
Times staff writers Jean Guccione, Michael Krikorian, Mitchell Landsberg, Mary MacVean and Richard Winton contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times