While Michael Jackson postponed a sold-out concert in Singapore--because of what his doctor called a “slow, recurring migraine"--the soap opera surrounding the pop singer took an unexpected twist Monday with the release of secretly recorded tapes that Jackson’s advisers have used to allege an extortion plot against the entertainer.
The tapes, obtained by The Times, contain purported comments from the father of a 13-year-old boy who has become the key figure in a police investigation of Jackson for alleged child molestation, sources said.
“There will be a massacre if I don’t get what I want,” the father says during 80 minutes of apparently edited telephone conversations between the father and the boy’s stepfather, who were part of a bitter custody battle. Sources said the tapes were recorded by the stepfather sometime in July.
At no point, however, did the boy’s natural father spell out what he might want from Jackson or detail any allegations against Jackson. Throughout the tapes, the father demanded to meet with Jackson, the child and the boy’s mother, from whom he was divorced at least seven years ago.
“I have the evidence (against Jackson),” the father said. “You’ll hear it on tape recordings.” Police have said their investigation has not produced physical or medical evidence that would support a criminal filing, but they are still interviewing people and reviewing photographs confiscated from Jackson.
Neither the father nor his attorney, Barry K. Rothman, responded to repeated phone calls Monday. But the father has told friends that the extortion allegations against him are untrue.
Jackson’s advisers say they have turned over a copy of the tape to the Los Angeles Police Department, which sources say is investigating the allegations that the singer was a target of a $20-million extortion attempt. LAPD officials refused to discuss the tapes.
Together with the accounts of private investigator Anthony Pellicano and Jackson attorney Bertram Fields, the recordings offer new details about Jackson’s account of the alleged extortion attempt, the linchpin of his defense against the molestation allegations.
Jackson’s advisers portray a celebrity besieged for six weeks by demands from an insistent parent who alleged that his son was molested and wanted to be compensated through lucrative movie development and screenwriting deals.
Throughout the tapes, the father appears to threaten going public with his allegations, saying he felt compelled to do what was best for his son.
He said he had hired an attorney. “Once I make that phone call,” the father said, “Michael’s career will be over.”
A day after marking his 35th birthday, Jackson postponed his performance Monday at Singapore’s National Stadium only minutes before he was to take the stage. “Michael Jackson has taken ill,” an announcer told the 45,000 people who had jammed the stadium. The concert was rescheduled for Wednesday evening.
Many greeted the announcement with boos. Jackson had been pronounced fit earlier in the evening and went to the stadium. But his doctor, D.L. Forecast, told reporters at the Raffles Hotel that Jackson was suffering from a migraine headache. Witnesses said the singer was so weak he had to be helped into the hotel by aides who supported him under each arm.
The cancellation was the third in scarcely a week for Jackson, who canceled two dates on his “Dangerous” tour last week in Bangkok.
Jackson was joined in Singapore by his friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who flew from Los Angeles to provide moral support. Some members of the Jackson family were planning to join him on tour “very soon,” said the singer’s brother, Jermaine Jackson, who spoke at a news conference in North Hollywood on Monday to tout a charity event.
“I’d like to let the world know that I’m behind my son,” said Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother. “I don’t believe any of this stuff that’s being written.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles police traveled to Las Vegas, where they and local police served a search warrant at a Mirage Hotel room where the 13-year-old boy allegedly spent the night with Jackson, as well as the boy’s mother and half-sister. Police, the Associated Press reported, left the hotel room empty-handed.
As KCBS-TV Channel 2 began airing portions of the tape recording Monday night, Jackson’s attorney, Howard Weitzman, cited the tape as evidence of an extortion attempt that has been alleged by Jackson’s advisers since the day the scandal broke.
But neither Weitzman nor Pellicano were able to provide further evidence of an extortion plot that they allege began unfolding in early July.
Pellicano, who has worked for Jackson for four years, has served as the point man for the singer’s public defense. He has conducted news conferences and investigated the allegations against Jackson. He also provided the media with youngsters who served as character witnesses for Jackson.
Known as a gumshoe to the stars, Pellicano has worked for the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner and the National Enquirer. He was able to use his expertise in electronics to help clear former car maker John Z. DeLorean of drug-dealing charges several years ago.
Even though he specializes in analysis and enhancement of audiotape recordings used in legal cases, Pellicano said he made no tapes of conversations involving the alleged extortion of Jackson.
In interviews with The Times, Pellicano provided a detailed account of events that climaxed with an Aug. 4 meeting among the father, the boy, Jackson and Pellicano at a Los Angeles hotel room. By then, Pellicano said, it had been made clear that the father wished to close his Beverly Hills dental practice and become a screenwriter. Pellicano said he had offered to introduce the father to figures in the film industry.
In Pellicano’s account of the hotel rendezvous, the father gave Jackson a warm embrace, then sat down and read from a letter in which a therapist described a number of “hypothetical” contacts between an adult and child as violations of child molestation laws. The 13-year-old reacted with apparent alarm, as if unaware his father would make such charges, Pellicano said.
The private investigator then demanded to know the father’s real intentions. According to Pellicano, the father reminded him of his desire to be a screenwriter.
The investigator told the father that he could not help him as a writer. That angered the father. Although Pellicano said he offered to introduce the father to Hollywood contacts, the father stood in anger, saying: “You can’t help me,” and pointed at Jackson. “Only he can help me.”
The meeting, Pellicano said, broke up with the father yelling at Jackson: “You’re going to be sorry, Michael. This is not the last you’re going to hear from me. If I don’t get what I want, Michael, I’m going to go to the press. I’m going to ruin you.”
Pellicano said the father wanted $5 million a year for four years in exchange for remaining silent. The father, he said, wanted to close his dental office and spend his time writing screenplays with his son and Jackson. The deal, the private eye said, even included a proposal that would result in tax breaks for the singer.
Pellicano said he rejected the deal.
On Aug. 5, a half-hour meeting took place with the father, Pellicano and the father’s attorney, Rothman, in attendance. By then, Pellicano said, he was trying to set up the father by encouraging him to explain how Pellicano could assist his screenwriting career.
The father was all smiles, Pellicano said, until the investigator detailed what that assistance would be: a single movie development deal. At that point, the father became irate.
The father then stormed out after threatening to fire Rothman.
The next day, in a telephone conversation with Rothman, Pellicano said he reiterated the offer of one movie development deal at the standard price, about $350,000. Eleven days would pass before a letter arrived from Rothman on Aug. 17, saying his client would not accept the $350,000 offer.
That same day, the 13-year-old underwent a three-hour interview with therapist Mathis Abrams, who reported his findings to police, initiating the criminal investigation. Videotapes and other items were confiscated from Jackson’s residence a few days later.
Despite his account of the events, Pellicano was unable to provide tape recordings or other documentation to help bolster the claim that Jackson was being extorted. When asked why he did not tape other phone calls involving the alleged extortion plot, Pellicano said he could not have done so legally without advising law enforcement. That would have created the risk of the father’s allegations becoming public, he said.
Under California law, it is legal to secretly record private phone calls if there is reasonable fear of extortion. Other investigators questioned how Pellicano could have neglected to make recordings that might have corroborated his version of the story.
“Any . . . private investigator that’s working a case like (that is) . . . going to have some backup tapes,” said Don Crutchfield, an investigator with longtime involvement in the film world. “It would be the first thing an investigator would do--set up a conversation by putting a tape on the phone. . . . It’s beyond me that an investigator wouldn’t have those conversations taped.”
Legal experts said it appears likely that the tape could be used as evidence in the case, based on California law.
“My gut feeling is that yes, it would be admissible,” said Robert Pugsley, professor of criminal law and legal ethics at Southwestern University School of Law.
Harland W. Braun, a noted Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, agreed, citing the extortion threat.
In the weeks before the tape was made, the boy and Jackson spent one five-day period as guests in the father’s home, Pellicano said. Later, Jackson and the boy both told Pellicano that the father had complained of the home being too crowded. The father suggested that Jackson build him an addition--or, better yet, buy him a larger residence, the investigator said.
Of the molestation charges, the investigator said: “If this was a true and legitimate claim, why didn’t this guy go to law enforcement right off the bat? If you molested my kid, it would take an act of God to keep me from ripping your heart out of your frigging chest.”
Times staff writers Jim Newton and Amy Wallace in Los Angeles and Charles P. Wallace in Singapore contributed to this story.