A Los Angeles police investigation of superstar Michael Jackson was prompted by a young boy's assertion that the singer abused him, a source close to the case said Tuesday.
However, in a midday news conference, representatives of Jackson said that the allegations came from frustrated extortionists who tried unsuccessfully to get $20 million from the 34-year-old entertainer.
"A demand for $20 million was made and presented. It was flatly and consistently refused. The refusals have in our opinion caused what has transpired in the last few days," said Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator for Jackson. He did not identify Jackson's accuser, but said it was someone the singer knew.
Law enforcement officials have acknowledged the investigation, but refused to discuss details.
A source who asked not to be identified told The Times that the inquiry centers on allegations made by a young boy.
The Associated Press reported that the boy is the 13-year-old son of a Beverly Hills dentist. The wire service said the boy told his therapist that Jackson fondled him.
KCAL-TV Channel 9 said court documents show that the dentist, who is divorced from the boy's mother and engaged in a custody fight with her over their son, has sought a court order preventing Jackson from seeing or communicating with the boy.
In a telephone call to Cable News Network, Michael Freeman, an attorney for the boy's mother, said she was not part of any extortion attempt and knew nothing about the allegations against Jackson until police began their investigation, according to CNN.
"She was shocked at what the allegations were," said Freeman, who refused to identify his client to CNN. "Obviously, she had no idea whatsoever that anything was going on of that nature or she would have stopped it."
KNBC-TV reported that detectives who served search warrants on Jackson's homes in Century City and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County earlier this week seized property including videotapes and photographs.
Rumors spread quickly Tuesday as a swarm of media tracked leads about the identity of the alleged victim. But Deanne Tilton-Durfee, executive director of Los Angeles County's Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, cautioned that many may be jumping the gun.
"These kinds of investigations go on thousands of times a year. . . . It is premature to attach much credibility to this yet. Celebrities are vulnerable to extortion," said Tilton-Durfee, who said she has seen many allegations made against high-profile entertainers that were not substantiated.
Of the 2.9 million reports of child abuse made nationwide in 1992, only about 40% are substantiated, she said. Last year the Police Department investigated 4,213 child abuse reports, resulting in 1,219 arrests. Authorities are obligated to investigate all credible reports they receive of physical or sexual child abuse, although such inquiries are supposed to be confidential until criminal charges are filed.
Search warrants--such as those that were served Saturday on Jackson's homes--are not uncommon in child abuse investigations. "Legally, a search warrant can be used very liberally with an allegation of abuse," Tilton-Durfee said.
In such cases, police often are looking for instruments used in abuse or pornography a child has described, according to Pamela Mohr, executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights, a county legal services group.
Jackson, who is in Thailand launching his "Dangerous" tour, issued a brief statement Tuesday in which he asserted he was guilty of no wrongdoing.
"I am confident the (Police) Department will conduct a fair and thorough investigation and that its result will demonstrate that there was no wrongdoing on my part," said the statement, which was read aloud by Howard Weitzman, the singer's lawyer.
"I intend to continue with my world tour, and look forward to seeing all of you in each of the scheduled cities. I am grateful for the overwhelming support of my fans throughout the world. I love you all. Thank you. Michael."