Ten years after a sex-abuse scandal sent Michael Jackson's career and reputation into a downward spiral, authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest on multiple counts of child molestation in a new case. The self-proclaimed King of Pop vowed through a spokesman to prove the "outrageous allegations" false.
Jackson's lawyers, led by Mark Geragos — who is also representing Scott Peterson, the Modesto, Calif., man charged with murder in the deaths of his wife and unborn son — are negotiating his surrender to California authorities.
"We encourage Mr. Jackson to turn himself in and cooperate with law enforcement authorities," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson told a news conference today.
Anderson said bail would be set at $3 million. He said the entertainer has been asked to surrender his passport.
"I am sad that there is another victim out there. I feel bad for the family," Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon told reporters. "I feel bad for the victim. Beyond that, I feel it is a sad thing for all those involved."
Officials said they are giving Jackson, 45, a specific period of time to turn himself in. They would would not say what that deadline was, but Sneddon said, "Within a very short period of time there will be charges filed against Mr. Jackson."
Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman issued a statement saying the allegations against the pop superstar were false and that the singer would prove his innocence.
"The outrageous allegations against Michael Jackson are false. Michael would never harm a child in any way," the statement said. "These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom. … When the evidence is presented and the allegations proven to be malicious and wholly unfounded, Michael will be able to put this nightmare behind him."
Authorities did not reveal the age or gender of Jackson's alleged victim. Brian Oxman, an attorney who has represented Jackson family members in the past, said Tuesday the alleged victim was a 12- or 13-year-old boy.
Asked if authorities believed there could be other victims, Anderson said, "There is that possibility and we would encourage the public to come forward" if they had any information.
Jackson was not in California when the arrest warrant was announced. Backerman said Tuesday that he was in Las Vegas, shooting a video. Sneddon and Anderson said they did not know Jackson's whereabouts, but that they were dealing with his legal representatives.
Asked whether investigators believe Jackson is a flight risk, Anderson said, "There's always that possibility, but I believe he's willing to cooperate and turn over his passport at this point."
Case Details Remain Sealed … For Now
On Tuesday, investigators from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office executed a search warrant at Jackson's ranch, known as Neverland. Anderson said searches were conducted at two other locations in Southern California simultaneously but would not reveal those locations.
Approximately 70 investigators conducted a 14-hour search at the Neverland Ranch. Anderson said investigators were looking for "items of evidence that would corroborate the victim's allegations."
The warrant alleges violation of a California law that prohibits lewd or lascivious acts with a child under age 14. A conviction carries three to eight years in prison on each count.
Sneddon said an affidavit outlining details of the case will be sealed for 45 days. He would not reveal how many counts Jackson faces.
D.A.: Child Is Willing to Testify
In 1993, the self proclaimed 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 settled the suit because he did not want a drawn-out legal battle and he wanted to put the matter behind him.
Sneddon said authorities were not able to pursue charges in the 1993 case because the civil suit was settled before a criminal case could be filed, and the alleged victim did not cooperate with investigators.
Under California law at the time, a child could not be compelled to testify in a molestation case, but in response to the 1993 case the state legislature changed the law to allow authorities to compel children to testify in molestation cases, Sneddon said.
However, the district attorney said the alleged victim in the current case is willing to testify in criminal proceedings against Jackson, and does not plan to file a civil lawsuit.
"There is no civil case filed and there is no anticipation a civil case will be filed," Sneddon said.
Sheriff and D.A. Not Pop Fans
Tuesday'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." The song was produced by singer R. Kelly, who is currently facing child pornography charges stemming from an alleged encounter with an underage girl in Chicago.
Jackson suggested in a statement Tuesday that the search at Neverland coincided with the album's release and allegations always seem to surface when he releases new music or embarks on a new project.
However, Anderson and Sneddon denied Jackson's suggestion.
"Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music," Sneddon said sarcastically. "We had no knowledge of his album prior to executing the search. This has nothing to do with his album or anything else he is doing in his life."
Jackson first rocketed to stardom as a child as the lead singer of The Jackson Five with his brothers. The success he enjoyed with solo albums such as 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.
Asked whether Jackson's children would be removed from his custody, Anderson and Sneddon said that matter would rest with California's Department of Child Welfare Services. The children were not in California at the moment, Sneddon said.
Jackson raised eyebrows when he said in the Bashir documentary that he has allowed other people's children to sleep in his bed at Neverland.
"Why can't you share your bed?" Jackson said in the documentary, which aired in February on ABCNEWS' 20/20. "The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone."
He insisted the practice was innocent and involved nothing of a sexual nature. "I give them hot milk, you know, we have cookies. It's very charming. It's very sweet. It's what the whole world should do."
CBS had been scheduled to air a Jackson special, consisting mainly of old concert footage, on Nov. 26. Network executives decided today to pull the special.
"Given the gravity of the charges against Mr. Jackson, we believe it would be inappropriate at this time to broadcast an entertainment special," the network said in a statement.