3 More Players Emerge in the Jackson Case : Inquiry: Private detective Ernie Rizzo says he works for the father of a teen-ager allegedly molested by the singer--but is disavowed by the father’s new attorney. Gloria Allred signs on as the boy’s lawyer.
In yet another day of bitter charges, shifting players and new questions in the Michael Jackson case, a private investigator emerged Tuesday to undercut accusations that the father of a 13-year-old boy allegedly molested by the entertainer had tried to extort $20 million from him.
But investigator Ernie Rizzo had barely finished talking to the press before the father’s new lawyer, Richard Hirsch, said Rizzo was not authorized to speak for the family and “at this point” was not working for anyone connected with the case.
While that drama was unfolding, it was disclosed that Los Angeles lawyer Gloria Allred had been hired to represent the boy. Allred declined to comment on any aspect of the case, limiting her remarks to a short statement.
“I represent the child in reference to the child’s relationship to Michael Jackson,” said Allred, who has built a career on high-profile cases. “That’s the only comment I’m going to make today.”
The day’s intrigue started Tuesday morning when Rizzo began giving media interviews in which he alleged that Jackson had offered $350,000 to buy the silence of the boy’s parents. Rizzo--who spoke to several news organizations, including The Times--accused rival private investigator Anthony Pellicano of doctoring audiotapes in order to falsely implicate the boy’s father in an extortion attempt.
As evidence of his credentials, Rizzo produced a letter signed by the boy’s father in which the father states: “I hereby retain you to investigate Anthony Pellicano and anyone else involved in the sexual molestation case that we spoke about this morning.”
Armed with that letter, Rizzo publicly accused Pellicano, who works for Jackson, of trying to bribe the boy’s family members into keeping the sexual molestation allegations under wraps. Rizzo said the boy’s mother and father, who are divorced and have battled over custody, now are united in their belief that their son was molested by Jackson.
Rizzo said the boy first confided in his father in July. The mother, Rizzo said, initially discounted the allegations because she and her son had been close companions of Jackson and she trusted him.
But she changed her mind, Rizzo said, after her son tearfully recounted the alleged abuse. The next day, the mother, the father and the boy’s stepparents confronted representatives of the entertainer, and it was then that Pellicano allegedly offered them the bribe, Rizzo said.
Jackson’s lawyer, Howard Weitzman, denied Rizzo’s account, insisting that the singer is innocent and that the father fabricated the molestation allegations as part of an attempt to extort money.
Late in the day, Hirsch, the lawyer for the boy’s father, disavowed the private investigator and said Rizzo did not speak for the family. Doubts about Rizzo mounted further when he could not produce evidence that he worked for the boy’s mother, as he had claimed.
“I have notified Ernie Rizzo that he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the father or the family,” Hirsch said. “At this point, he is not retained by anyone connected to this case.”
But Rizzo’s story had made national news by then, and the lobby of his hotel was overrun with journalists. Beleaguered staff frantically fielded dozens of phone calls. Tuesday evening, the investigator, dressed in a pink polo shirt and shorts, sat in the lobby, surrounded by reporters, passing out news clips attacking Pellicano.
Despite the statement from Hirsch, Rizzo insisted that he is working the case and investigating on behalf of the father and son. Tuesday evening, he said he remained committed to the investigation.
“I wasn’t hired by Hirsch,” Rizzo said. “I was hired by (the boy’s father). Hirsch can’t fire me. He didn’t hire me. . . . Until (the boy’s father) tells me different, that’s where it’s at.”
In Chicago, colleagues of the investigator described him as a colorful private eye who lost his professional license after being forced into a hiatus by a conviction for illegal wiretapping.
“Ernie isn’t well liked, possibly because his colleagues are jealous, possibly because he does not always do things within the law,” said Richard Fries, a veteran investigator who has practiced in Chicago for 20 years and who sits on the state licensing board. “He had lost his license for almost 10 years, and he just got it back, let’s see, in January or December.”
Fries said Rizzo failed the test for reinstatement the first time he took it but passed it on the second try.
The bad blood between Rizzo and Pellicano dates back years to when both worked as private investigators in Chicago. On Tuesdays, they gave no indications that a truce is in the offing.
“I’ve called him a fraud since Day 1,” Rizzo said.
For his part, Pellicano dismissed Rizzo as “an ambulance chaser” from Chicago drawn to the case by the prospects of getting publicity.
“About three weeks ago, I get a phone call,” Pellicano said. “It’s Ernie Rizzo. He says, ‘Tony, there’s all kinds of people trying to dig up dirt on you. They want me to work for them.’ I say: ‘Let ‘em do what they gotta do.’ ”
Meanwhile, half a world away in Singapore, Jackson underwent a brain scan after canceling a concert because of a migraine headache. His doctor said the singer was fit and would resume his concert tour.
Jackson was animated Tuesday as he joked and waved to fans waiting outside his hotel. He was taken to Singapore’s Mt. Elizabeth Hospital for the MRI scan, which provides views of the brain in three dimensions.
In a tape-recorded message played at a news conference, Jackson said he was “suddenly taken ill” and apologized for disappointing his fans. Singapore newspapers Tuesday contained photos of fans venting their anger, including a group of young handicapped children who waited hours to see the singer.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, talking to reporters and editors at The Times, urged the media to exhibit more restraint in its reporting of the allegations of child molestation.
“What the world gets out of this is all the suggestions and innuendoes about his sexuality and this and that,” Jackson said. “And it just seems the process (is) unfair.”
Times staff writers Charles P. Wallace in Singapore and Shawn Hubler in Los Angeles contributed to this story.