Michael Jackson’s attorney angrily vowed Tuesday to “land like a ton of bricks” on anyone who besmirches his client’s reputation and charged that molestation allegations against the entertainer were motivated by money.
“IF ANYBODY doesn’t think based upon what’s happened so far that the true motivation of these charges and these allegations is anything but money and the seeking of money, then they’re living in their own Neverland,” Mark Geragos said, referring to Jackson’s storybook playland near Santa Barbara.
Geragos did not take any questions at the news conference, but promised a vigorous defense.
“Michael Jackson is not going to be slammed. He is not going to be a pinata for every person who has financial motives,” he said.
The news conference came as doubts about the credibility of Jackson’s accuser and his family began to emerge.
The family of the child has already been involved in two previous cases that involved abuse allegations: a lawsuit in which the family said they were battered by mall security guards, and a divorce fight in which the father pleaded no contest to spousal abuse and child cruelty.
In November 2001, J.C. Penney Co. paid the boy’s family $137,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging security guards beat the boy, his mother and his brother in a parking lot after the boy left the store carrying clothes that hadn’t been paid for, court records show.
The mother also contended that she was sexually assaulted by one of the guards during the 1998 confrontation.
A month before the settlement, the boy’s mother had filed for divorce, beginning a bitter fight that would include criminal charges of abuse. The father’s attorney, Russell Halpern, said the mother had lied about the abuse and had a “Svengali-like” ability to make her children repeat her lies.
Halpern said the father once showed him a script his wife had allegedly written for their children to use when they were questioned in a civil deposition.
“She wrote out all their testimony. I actually saw the script,” Halpern said. “I remember my client showing me, bringing the paperwork to me.”
The child’s mother has an unlisted number and could not be located for comment. J.C. Penney lawyers did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
‘MUSIC TO A DEFENSE ATTORNEY’S EARS’
The family’s past legal cases could be critical in the current molestation case, if Geragos can show the mother or the accuser lacks credibility, said Leonard Levine, a defense attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases.
“It sounds like music to a defense attorney’s ears — that there have been other cases where they have sued and there is at least an argument that the allegations are similar to the ones here,” Levine said, referring to the claims of physical abuse.
“Once you can get evidence in that there’s previous evidence that either the child or the parents have fabricated evidence or testimony, you’re 90 percent to an acquittal,” Levine added.
Jackson was released on $3 million bail after his surrender Thursday and immediately returned to Las Vegas, where he had been filming a video. Santa Barbara County authorities said Tuesday they now expect to file formal charges sometime in mid-December rather than soon after Thanksgiving.
Jackson’s spokesman, Stuart Backerman, declined comment about the past lawsuits involving the accuser’s family.
Geragos called the news conference following revelations that he and Jackson were secretly videotaped while flying on a private jet to Santa Barbara last week for Jackson’s surrender.
Geragos claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against Santa Monica-based XtraJet that the charter company covertly installed two cameras in the plane’s cabin.
Jackson’s attorneys won a temporary restraining order against XtraJet, barring any release of the tapes.
The cameras “were recording attorney-client conversations and then somebody had the unmitigated gall to shop those tapes around to media outlets in order to sell them to the highest bidder,” he said.
Separately, FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said agents went to the headquarters of XtraJet. “We’re currently assessing if a federal violation has occurred,” McLaughlin said.
The tapes’ existence came to light when representatives of XtraJet showed it to several news organizations, saying they had found two videotapes aboard one of their jets and wanted to know whether it was legal to distribute or sell them.
Geragos said he contacted XtraJet and was referred to an attorney who told him Tuesday: “We had a lottery ticket and we thought we were going to do something with it.”
“This is not the lottery,” Geragos said. “This is this man’s life. This is his family’s life. These are scurrilous accusations.”
The attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.
Fox Network viewed the tape on Monday and reported that Jackson looked “calm, often smiling or laughing” during the flight.
The lawsuit claims XtraJet asked Fox to pay a price “in the high six figures.”
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