Pop star Michael Jackson has handed out pink slips to much of his Neverland ranch staff but has not completely shuttered his Santa Barbara County estate, a spokeswoman said.
Jackson, who now lives outside the country, met a state deadline this week to pay more than $300,000 in back wages to dozens of staff members. But then Thursday most of the employees were notified that they were being laid off.
"It is public knowledge that Mr. Jackson currently resides in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain," Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said in a statement. "He therefore decided to close his house and reduce his work force."
Investigators from the state Department of Industrial Relations confirmed Friday that 46 of Jackson's employees had received back pay. They had gone without pay since Dec. 19, said department spokesman Dean Fryer.
Jackson faces more than $100,000 in penalties for the delinquent paychecks, but that figure is expected to grow once an audit of his payroll records is complete, Fryer says. The entertainer also owes the state a nearly $70,000 penalty for allowing his workers' compensation insurance to lapse in January.
State investigators verified that none of the people still working at the ranch are direct employees of Jackson.
Instead, a Jackson family member or members are personally handling security at the Santa Barbara County estate, and the caregivers who tend to the more than 30 species of animals at the ranch have been placed on the payroll of a local veterinarian.
Bain indicated that the ranch was still operating, at least on a limited basis.
"Reports indicating that Neverland has been closed or 'shut down' for good are inaccurate," Bain said in her statement.