Authorities searched Michael Jackson's ranch today as part of a criminal investigation, while the pop superstar's spokesman lashed out at "media hounds" who claimed the case involved child molestation allegations.
Between 60 and 70 investigators from the Santa Barbara County, Calf., Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office carried out a search warrant this morning at the 45-year-old singer's home in the Santa Ynez Valley, officials said. They spent several hours at the ranch.
The search was part of an "ongoing criminal investigation," Sgt. Chris Pappas said in a statement, but authorities declined to elaborate. They planned to hold a news conference Wednesday.
Brian Oxman, an attorney who has represented Jackson family members in the past, said the investigation involved a molestation allegation.
"The investigation is about a 12-year-old boy. This involves a molestation allegation," Oxman said in a statement. "Sheriff's deputies have been investigating this case for months. There's been an ambulance that has already come and gone. And there is a forensics van, on the scene. Here we go again. This is insane."
Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman told ABCNEWS that Oxman was not authorized to make official statements on the singer's behalf. In a statement released this evening, Jackson's official representative said he did not know what the investigation was about, but that the entertainer would cooperate with authorities.
Backerman condemned the "malignant horde of media hounds" who claimed to have the inside scoop.
"A rogue's gallery of hucksters and self-styled 'inside sources' have dominated the airwaves since reports of a search of Neverland broke, speculating, guessing and fabricating information about an investigation they couldn't possibly know about," Backerman's statement said.
Backerman said Jackson himself said: "'I've seen lawyers who do not represent me and spokespeople who do not know me speaking for me. These characters always seem to surface with a dreadful allegation just as another project, an album, a video, is being released.' "
Today's search came as Epic Records released Number Ones, a greatest-hits collection featuring Jackson's No. 1 hit songs and his new single, "One More Chance."
Career Clouded by '93 Allegations
A decade ago, the "King of Pop" became embroiled in a scandal when a 13-year-old boy accused him of molestation. No charges were ever filed. Jackson ultimately reached a financial settlement with the alleged victim's family — reportedly for millions of dollars.
Jackson has always denied the allegations and said he reached a settlement with the boy's family because he did not want a drawn-out legal battle and he wanted to put the matter behind him.
In a second statement today, Oxman suggested the allegations may be a scheme to force a monetary settlement out of Jackson.
"The search warrant was a surprise on the same day that Michael Jackson was to release his new song," Oxman said. "The timing of these events are suspicious. … We view these allegations as another attempt at gaining money from Michael."
Jackson was not at the Neverland Ranch today when police began the search. Backerman said the pop star has been in Las Vegas, shooting a video for the new single.
In Las Vegas, Jackson family spokesman Steve Manning briefly addressed reporters outside a recording studio, saying: "The family stands behind Michael. He's holding up."
Jackson's parents, Joe and Katherine Jackson, and brother Jermaine were in Las Vegas working on a boxing event scheduled next month in Atlantic City, N.J., said Dean DeLorean, spokesman for CMX Sports & Entertainment.
Allowed Children to Sleep in His Bed
The self-proclaimed "King of Pop" first rocketed to stardom as a child as the lead singer of The Jackson Five with his brothers and the success he enjoyed with albums had such Thriller, Bad and Dangerous made him an international superstar.
However, Jackson's career has never recovered from the scandal over the 1993 molestation allegations. His record sales on subsequent albums have dwindled, and he has generated more headlines with his bizarre behavior and alleged cosmetic surgery than with his music.
Jackson was married briefly to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis. A three-year marriage to his dermatology nurse, Debbie Rowe, followed, and she bore him two children, Prince Michael I and Paris. Jackson had a third child, Prince Michael II, by another, unidentified woman in 2002, and he stirred outrage when he dangled the baby from the balcony of a Berlin hotel last November. Jackson denied purposely endangering his child, and authorities decided not to pursue charges.
All three children live with Jackson. They all appeared in British journalist Martin Bashir's documentary Living With Michael Jackson, but wore veils and masks to conceal their faces.
Jackson raised eyebrows during that documentary earlier this year when he told Bashir that he has allowed children to sleep in his bed at Neverland Ranch.