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Jacko Accusers Pros at the Game

LOS ANGELES – Molestation accusations levied against pop superstar Michael Jackson are being fueled by money, according to the entertainer’s lawyer.

At the same time, doubts about the credibility of the family of the boy claiming the charges are beginning to emerge. The family already has been involved in two previous cases that involved abuse allegations: a lawsuit in which the family said they were battered by mall security guards and a divorce fight in which the father pleaded no contest to spousal abuse and child cruelty.

In November 2001, J.C. Penney Co. paid the boy’s family $137,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging security guards beat the boy, his mother and his brother in a parking lot after the boy left the store carrying clothes that hadn’t been paid for, court records show.

The mother also contended that she was sexually assaulted by one of the guards during the 1998 confrontation.

A month before the settlement, the boy’s mother had filed for divorce, beginning a bitter fight that would include criminal charges of abuse.

The father’s attorney, Russell Halpern, said the mother had lied about the abuse and had a “Svengali-like” ability to make her children repeat her lies.

Halpern said the father once showed him a script his wife had allegedly written for their children to use when they were questioned in a civil deposition.

“She wrote out all their testimony. I actually saw the script,” Halpern said Tuesday. “I remember my client showing me, bringing the paperwork to me.”

The family’s past legal cases could be critical in the current molestation case, if Jackson attorneys can show the mother or the accuser lacks credibility, said Leonard Levine, a defense attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases.

“It sounds like music to a defense attorney’s ears – that there have been other cases where they have sued and there is at least an argument that the allegations are similar to the ones here,” Levine said, referring to the claims of physical abuse.

Jackson’s spokesman, Stuart Backerman, declined comment about the past lawsuits involving the accuser’s family. The Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday.

In 2002, the boy’s father was charged with four counts of child cruelty, and one count each of injuring a child, making a threat and false imprisonment. He pleaded no contest to one count of child cruelty but it was unclear from court records which of his children was involved. The other charges were dismissed.

The father also pleaded no contest to spousal abuse in 2001.

Geragos Fights Back

Meanwhile, Jackson’s attorney on Tuesday angrily vowed to come down hard on anyone who attacks the singer and charged that molestation allegations against him were motivated by money.

“If anybody doesn’t think based upon what’s happened so far that the true motivation of these charges and these allegations is anything but money and the seeking of money, then they’re living in their own Neverland,” attorney Mark Geragos (search) said Tuesday, referring to the singer’s Santa Barbara County estate.

“Michael Jackson is not going to be abused. Michael Jackson is not going to be slammed. He is not going to be a pinata for every person who has financial motives,” Geragos said after summoning news media to his office building.

He also said to anyone who abused Jackson or invaded his privacy: “We will land on you like a ton of bricks.”

Secret Tape

The vigorous defense of Jackson followed revelations that Geragos and Jackson were secretly videotaped while flying on a private jet to Santa Barbara last week for Jackson’s surrender and booking.

Geragos claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against Santa Monica-based XtraJet that the charter company covertly installed two cameras in the plane’s cabin.

The cameras “were recording attorney-client conversations and then somebody had the unmitigated gall to shop those tapes around to media outlets in order to sell them to the highest bidder,” he said.

Separately, FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said agents went to the headquarters of XtraJet and seized tapes. “We’re currently assessing if a federal violation has occurred,” McLaughlin said.

Jackson’s attorneys earlier in the day won a temporary restraining order against XtraJet, barring any release of two videotapes recorded aboard the private jet.

Judge David Yaffe issued a temporary injunction against XtraJet that prevents the corporate jet leasing company from releasing the footage until at least Dec. 19. A hearing on extending the order is scheduled for Dec. 18.

The tapes’ existence came to light when representatives of XtraJet showed them to several news organizations, saying they had found two videotapes aboard one of their jets and wanted to know whether it was legal to distribute or sell them.

Geragos called XtraJet’s attempt to sell the tapes “one of the most outrageous acts I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of practicing criminal law.”

Fox News has already viewed the tape without audio, after the company showed it to several news organizations Monday.

In the video, Jackson was calm and often smiling or laughing during the plane ride – not a sobbing, emotional wreck as a British tabloid reported over the weekend.

XtraJet says it found two video cameras stowed away in some baggage compartments with film of the flight on them. The company said it hadn’t placed the cameras, but found them during a routine sweep of the aircraft and wanted to know whether it was legal to distribute or sell them.

Jackson surrendered Thursday on suspicion of sexual abuse of a child under 14 after authorities raided the star’s Neverland Ranch last Wednesday. He was handcuffed, booked and released on $3 million bail and has been in seclusion in Las Vegas ever since.

Authorities have said they expect to file formal charges sometime after Thanksgiving. His arraignment is set for Jan. 9.



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