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Jackson's foundation now virtually defunct

Once-thriving Heal the World out of funds, leadership
/ Source: The Associated Press

Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Foundation once spread millions of dollars around the globe to help children threatened by war and disease.

Fueling its success was the kind of money and excitement that only someone of Jackson’s star power could generate.

With backing from the likes of PepsiCo and New Age guru Deepak Chopra, Jackson launched the charity at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 1992, complete with a boys choir singing his hit single and the group’s namesake, “Heal the World.”

But now, like its founder, the charity is in trouble.

Starved of funding and leadership, the organization has stopped donating to charitable causes and has been suspended in California since 2002 for failing to file yearly accounting statements, records show.

Other Jackson charities have withered as well, in a decline that began well before the latest child-molestation scandal broke.

His Heal L.A. project, established to help aid inner-city children after the Los Angeles riots, has been suspended in California since 2001, and his Neverland Zoo Foundation to preserve endangered animals was dissolved in 1998.

More tarnish on Jackson's reputationThe collapse of the celebrated Heal the World Foundation could further tarnish Jackson’s reputation as a children’s advocate at a time when he is facing allegations he molested a boy. Jackson, 45, is awaiting trial, and a grand jury is convening this week to investigate.

The reasons for Heal the World’s decline largely remain a mystery. But Stuart Backerman, a former spokesman for Jackson, said its work began tapering off because there wasn’t an “inspirational force” or chief executive to carry out its mission.

“So it just kind of went into suspended animation,” Backerman said.

Jackson spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain did not respond to requests for comment.

Heal the World seemed destined to succeed when Jackson founded it.

With his career soaring thanks to a new album, “Dangerous,” and a lucrative Pepsi endorsement deal, the singer planned a world tour to help raise $100 million for his new children’s charity and “spread the message of global love.”

The organization built playgrounds, provided immunizations and funded scores of children’s causes around the world. It helped pay for a Hungarian boy’s lifesaving liver transplant and co-sponsored an airlift of more than 46 tons of relief supplies to war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992.

Although it never reached the pop star’s lofty $100 million goal, the foundation doled out about $4 million in its first five years, said Richard Fowler, director from 1995 to 1997.

Running out of funds
In late 2002, however, it had net assets of just $3,542 and reported $2,585 in expenses, mostly for “management fees,” according to the latest available tax filings.

As of late 2002, the foundation did not have a director, president or other top manager besides Jackson, who was listed as chairman, records show.

The foundation has been suspended in California since April 2002 for failing to file annual statements required of tax-exempt organizations, said John Barrett, spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board. The penalty means the charity has to give up certain rights to appeal tax rulings.

Heal the Kids, a New York-based offshoot designed to encourage parents to spend more time with their children, has not held an event in three years, and the New York attorney general’s office asked last fall that the charity be formally dissolved if it does not plan any more activities.

Jackson stopped working with the organization at the urging of friends and handlers who believed its activities were too “pedestrian” for the King of Pop, said Shmuley Boteach, the group’s former president.

“He was being told this initiative was going to devalue him as a superstar. ‘Overexpose’ him was the word constantly used,” said Boteach, a rabbi, author and columnist who helped Jackson start Heal the Kids.