Wednesday, November 26, 2003

From combined dispatches

A California prosecutor said yesterday that pop singer Michael Jackson will be formally charged on multiple counts of child molestation in mid-December.

Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon announced that he would file a formal criminal complaint with a court in the California city near Mr. Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

“It is anticipated that the felony complaint will be filed sometime during the week of Dec. 15,” Mr. Sneddon said in a statement.

He said charges had been delayed to allow prosecutors to set up a Web site on the case. A sheriff’s department spokesman said the complaint likely would be filed Dec. 17.

Last week, Mr. Jackson — whose greatest-hits record debuted yesterday at No. 13 on the Billboard magazine pop charts — surrendered to police. He was arrested on sex charges reported to involve a 12-year-old boy and released on $3 million bail.

Mr. Jackson, 45, has dismissed the accusations as a “big lie.” His attorney on Tuesday vowed to land “like a ton of bricks” on anyone trying to use the star as “a lottery ticket.” Mark Geragos said “the true motivation of these charges” is “money and the seeking of money.”

Yesterday, Mr. Sneddon said the prosecutor’s office is setting up a Web site that will post all court-issued information on the Jackson case, including the charging document.

The prosecutor apologized yesterday for having joked about the case. Interviewed on CNN, Mr. Sneddon apologized for calling Mr. Jackson “Wacko Jacko” last week in a Court TV interview. He also said his remarks last week were inappropriate when he thanked the hundreds of national and foreign reporters on hand at a press conference for helping boost revenue in California’s slumping economy.

“I think, to some extent, that was inappropriate,” Mr. Sneddon said. “I feel bad because I think I should have known better. I feel bad that somebody would assume that I’m making light of a thing where I know there is a serious crime and there are victims that have been hurt, and family.”

Mr. Sneddon has denied accusations that he is waging a vendetta against Mr. Jackson, who faced similar accusations in 1993. That case involved a 13-year-old boy whose family settled a civil suit against the singer in return for a payment reported to be more than $25 million. The 13-year-old then refused to cooperate with Mr. Sneddon’s office, thwarting the prosecutor’s intent to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Jackson.

The highly publicized 1993 case received new attention this year when Mr. Jackson said in a foreign television interview that he enjoyed spending the night in bed with boys, but insisted such sleepovers were innocent.

Accusations of pedophilia have helped cool the career of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop,” who reached the peak of MTV stardom with his albums “Thriller” and “Bad” in the 1980s. Yesterday’s chart debut of a collection of hits, called “Number Ones,” continued a trend of declining record sales for Mr. Jackson, who was just a child when he gained fame as the dancing lead singer of the Jackson Five.

“Number Ones” sold 121,000 copies in its first week of U.S. release, Billboard reported, more than some analysts had expected but far from the megahit status Mr. Jackson once enjoyed. In England, the record debuted at No. 1.

Slumping record sales have contributed to a decline in the star’s fortunes. The New York Times reported yesterday that Mr. Jackson’s advisers have told him to limit his spending to $1 million a month. The singer has been borrowing on his assets — including half-ownership of the Beatles’ publishing catalog and his famous 2,700-acre ranch in Santa Barbara — to keep debts under control, the paper reported.

His personal debt is believed to be $200 million, the newspaper reported. In a lawsuit, a former financial manager said he helped Mr. Jackson borrow $230 million to refinance earlier loans. In 1998, the singer used part of a $140 million loan to pay off an earlier $90 million debt. In 2000, he borrowed $60 million to pay off a $30 million debt assumed a year earlier.

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