Amid a mushrooming international furor over allegations of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson, Los Angeles police are focusing on the entertainer's contact with at least four young boys, including a 13-year-old whose therapist was the first to report the alleged molestation, sources close to the investigation said Wednesday.
"They are even interviewing friends of friends to see if they were told anything," one of the sources said, adding that the recent round of allegations are the first ever leveled against the international pop icon.
The investigation started in July when the father of the 13-year-old took his son to a therapist to discuss the allegations regarding Jackson, according to police sources. The therapist immediately reported the interview to the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services.
Since then, investigators have developed information during wide-ranging interviews about at least three other potential victims, according to one knowledgeable source. Jackson, who has not been charged with a crime, has denied any wrongdoing.
In case files obtained by The Times, the 13-year-old boy recounted for a social worker the origins and evolution of his relationship with Jackson, one that allegedly went from affectionate cuddling to sexual intimacy. The boy, according to the case files, had difficulty remembering the times and dates. "However, the minor was consistent in his story," one document states.
According to the files, the boy said he met Jackson when the entertainer's car broke down and the boy's stepfather, who owns a rental car company, helped Jackson. They began seeing each other more regularly, the boy told the social worker, when Jackson returned from a tour in February. He said they traveled together, at one point visiting Las Vegas, where they watched the movie "The Exorcist" from bed.
Jackson allegedly told the youngster that their relationship was "in the cosmos" and "meant to be." The boy said Jackson made a number of sexual advances.
"Minor said he . . . felt comfortable sleeping in same bed with Mr. Jackson (wearing sweat pants and pajamas respectively)," the case files state. Although the boy said he was not uncomfortable at first, he became so later, as Jackson's advances allegedly grew more aggressive and included kissing and fondling.
"One time he was kissing me and put his tongue in my mouth, and I said don't do that," the boy told investigators. "He (Jackson) started crying. I guess he tried to make me feel guilty."
According to the case documents, Jackson also warned the boy against telling anyone of their relationship. "Minor stated Mr. Jackson told minor that minor would go to Juvenile Hall if he told and that they'd both be in trouble," one document states. "Minor also said Mr. Jackson told him about other boys he had 'done this with, but he didn't go as far with them.' "
The boy shared details of the alleged molestation with his father, who confronted Jackson, the documents say.
"Minor stated he and his father met with Michael Jackson, and attorneys for father and Mr. Jackson and confronted him with allegations in an effort to make a settlement and avoid a court hearing," one document states.
In an emergency response referral report based on the therapist's report to investigators, the narrative summary states the "mother was suspicious of abuse but was persuaded by the perpetrator to allow the relationship to develop." Officers from the LAPD's Sexually Exploited Child Unit are overseeing the police inquiry, while a source said that a respected investigator from Children's Services was brought back from vacation to lead the department's part of the investigation.
Although no charges have been filed against Jackson, the investigation has stirred a world outpouring of media coverage. London tabloids flew crews of journalists to Los Angeles to cover the story Wednesday, and helicopters took to the air above Jackson's Los Olivos ranch. The town, a small hamlet in Santa Barbara County, was overrun with reporters trying to ferret out information about the unfolding case and the superstar at its center.
Neither Jackson nor his lawyer, Howard Weitzman, was available for comment Wednesday. But members of the Jackson family released a statement supporting the singer, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
"We wish to state our collective, unequivocal belief that Michael has been made victim of a cruel and obvious attempt to take advantage of his fame and success," said the statement, signed by 10 family members. "We know, as does the whole world, that he has dedicated his life to providing happiness for young people everywhere."
A private investigator who works for the entertainer blamed the allegations on an extortion attempt that Jackson rebuffed. Details of that alleged extortion, however, have not been reported to police, according to officials in the LAPD's Major Crimes Unit, which would be responsible for handling such an investigation.
"Nobody's brought anything to us," said Capt. William O. Gartland, head of the unit.
The 13-year-old boy whose allegations triggered the investigation is at the center of a bitter custody dispute, at least part of which grows out of his father's discomfort about the boy's relationship with Jackson, court files show.
The father, in fact, persuaded his ex-wife July 12 to sign a stipulation that among other things barred all contact between the boy and Jackson. Under that stipulation, she gave up legal custody and was allowed to visit the boy only on the condition that he not have "any contact or communication in any form, directly or indirectly, including, but not limited to, telephone communication with a third-party adult male known as Michael Jackson."
The stipulation was filed with Superior Court Judge Kenneth A. Black in July. Later, however, the mother withdrew from it, saying she had only agreed to sign it in an attempt to get her former husband to let her see her son.
On Aug. 17, the judge voided the stipulation and ordered the father to return the boy to his mother. Police launched their investigation the same day.
Police searched Jackson's Los Olivos ranch and a Los Angeles condominium Aug. 21, seizing videotapes and other possible evidence. But sources cautioned that such searches and seizures are common when allegations of sexual abuse are made, and they do not necessarily mean that police have uncovered evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Sources say the boy's father, a Beverly Hills dentist, took his son to a therapist when the boy came to visit him in early July. After speaking to the boy, the therapist reported the allegations of sexual abuse--which involve oral sex and fondling.
The boy's father could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The boy's mother and father were divorced in 1985 after an 11-year marriage. The mother, who had custody of the boy, later married the founder of a car rental company.
One source familiar with the investigation said the boy and Jackson developed a relationship over several months, adding that the youngster occasionally spent the night at one of Jackson's homes and that the two traveled together.
At one point, they were photographed in Florida. In May, Jackson and the boy were seen in Monte Carlo at a music awards ceremony. The boy's mother and sister also accompanied Jackson on that trip.
"He always had children traveling with him," the source said. The alleged abuse began with fondling, the source said, but progressed to oral sex and mutual masturbation. "It got more and more intimate," the source said.
The relationship between the two reportedly broke off in June. The next month, the boy went to visit his father for a week. A police source said the two apparently had a long discussion July 11. The next day the father presented the mother with the stipulation barring contact with Jackson.
The mother said she was not entering into an agreement under duress. But several weeks later, she withdrew from the agreement, saying she had indeed been pressured. "The only reason I signed this stipulation was because the (father) told me that if I did not . . . I would not have (my son) returned to me," the mother said.
Jackson is a major donor to programs that serve needy children and has established his own foundation for that purpose. Known for surrounding himself with youngsters, Jackson often invites them to his "Neverland" ranch, where he has an amusement park. He often travels with youngsters and their parents, saying they are like family.
Jackson, who is in Thailand on a concert tour, canceled his show Wednesday, disappointing and angering thousands of fans. But members of Jackson's entourage said the cancellation was unrelated to the allegations against him and were instead the result of severe dehydration that Jackson suffered in his first Bangkok concert.
Pepsi is sponsoring the tour, and executives at the company said that for now it is proceeding.
"We are the sponsors of the tour, and our plans have not changed," said spokesman Ken Ross. "Given the seriousness of the allegations, it would be irresponsible to speculate where this could lead. Right now there are very few facts."
Two Pepsi TV spots starring Jackson are airing in many of the countries on the tour. Pepsi signs are also prominent at all of Jackson's concerts. By one estimate, Pepsi was planning to invest nearly $50 million in the tour and soft drink marketing that surrounds it.
But several marketing experts say Jackson may be finished as a product endorser--even if he is vindicated.
"His career as a spokesman is over," said talent agent Charles H. Stern. "And the tour will probably have to be canceled. These types of allegations are especially damaging. No one remembers the retractions. All they remember are the allegations."
Times staff writers Bruce Horovitz and Jim Newton contributed to this story.