A legal war erupted Friday over earnings from Michael Jackson's estate with a former manager claiming a 15 percent stake and the singer's executors seeking to block any payments to the former adviser.
Attorneys for Jackson's estate and Tohme R. Tohme filed dueling cases over the adviser's claims that along with Jackson's mother and three children, he is entitled to a sizable share of the singer's post-death earnings. The estate has earned more than $300 million since Jackson's June 2009 death.
Jackson's estate claims Tohme used undue influence to get Jackson to sign several deals that lined his pockets and that he improperly gave away some of the singer's property. The contracts involved a refinancing of Jackson's debt related to Neverland Ranch and a producer's fee that Tohme negotiated for himself for Jackson's series of planned comeback concerts in London.
Tohme's lawsuit, filed in Santa Monica, California, claims he was influential in reviving Jackson's career after he was acquitted of child molestation charges. His lawsuit states he worked diligently to create "a financial and career strategy that would provide stability for Michael Jackson and his children."
Estate attorney Howard Weitzman wrote in a statement released Friday morning that he expected Tohme to file suit and that the estate was asking a probate judge to block the former adviser's claims.
"We believe the facts will show that Mr. Tohme's claims are meritless and that Mr. Tohme engaged in wrongdoing with respect to Michael Jackson starting early in their relationship," Weitzman wrote.
Tohme served as Jackson's manager from January 2008 until March 2009. His suit claims he was instrumental in getting the singer to move to Los Angeles to prepare for a career comeback and was key to the singer signing an agreement with AEG Live for a series of comeback concerts in London dubbed "This Is It."
Rehearsal footage was turned into a film of the same name, and Tohme was credited in the picture as Jackson's personal adviser.
Jackson's estate however contends that Tohme has improperly retained Jackson's property and financial records and forced the singer to sign unconscionable contracts. One of the deals, which dealt with the refinancing of debt on Neverland Ranch, called for Tohme to receive $2.3 million. Tohme also negotiated a producer's fee of $100,000 a month for the "This Is It" shows planned in London, although Jackson died before the concert series began.
This lawsuit is necessary to finally put a stop to abuse of fiduciary obligations owed to Jackson and seeks to unwind the self-serving and unconscionable agreements (Tohme) encouraged Jackson to enter into" and to compensate the estate for failing to return Jackson's property, the estate's complaint states.
Tohme's lawsuit notes that he returned $5.5 million to Jackson's estate in July 2009. He told The Associated Press at the time that the singer had stockpiled the money to purchase a "dream home" in Las Vegas.
Tohme and the estate have been battling over payments for more than a year.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP