Part I: The Anatomy of a Scam
In January 2000, a woman named Janet Arvizo consulted with a civil lawyer about suing Michael Jackson for having allegedly molested her son.1 This would have been the second child molestation lawsuit filed against Jackson, the first being the result of sexual abuse allegations that were made by a 13-year-old boy in 1993.
The problem, however, is that in January 2000, Janet Arvizo had never met Michael Jackson; neither had her son. In fact, it would still be another seven months before Jackson would even be introduced to the Arvizo family.
Three years after their initial meeting in August 2000, Janet Arvizo’s son accused Michael Jackson of sexual abuse; the pop star is currently preparing to fight these claims in court. During a recent pre-trial hearing, Arvizo’s plans to sue Michael Jackson before she had even met him were made public by Jackson’s lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. According to Mesereau, Arvizo had revealed this information to investigators in June 2003, when she and her children first made accusations against Jackson.2
Did Janet Arvizo set out to meet Michael Jackson with the intention of eventually filing a child abuse lawsuit against him? And if they were aware of Arvizo’s potential motives before they arrested and charged Jackson, why did authorities choose to go forward with the case?
The following report takes an in-depth look at the Arvizo family, their history of making sexual abuse allegations for personal gain, their attempts to cash in on their connection to Michael Jackson and, finally, their involvement with several major players from the 1993 child molestation case against Jackson.
BEFORE THE BEGINNING
Prior to accusing Michael Jackson of child molestation, the Arvizo family had been involved in two other sexual abuse cases. In 1998, Janet Arvizo, her husband David and their three children Anne*, John* and Rob* accused security guards from JCPenney and Tower Records of physically assaulting them after pulling them over for shoplifting.
Two years after filing a $3 million lawsuit against the companies, Janet Arvizo also accused the security guards of sexually assaulting her during the altercation, an allegation that had never come up in her initial deposition. The companies settled out of court for $152,500 without admitting guilt.3
Tom Griffin, the attorney who represented JCPenney in the case, told NBC’s Mike Taibbi that the Arvizo family had no evidence to substantiate their claims. “[The mother] just came up with this fairy tale, not a fairy tale, it’s a horror story, and just ran with it,”4 Griffin said.
A psychiatrist hired by JCPenney during the investigation said that the children’s testimonies sounded scripted and rehearsed,5 a suspicion that was confirmed by their father. In an affidavit, David Arvizo admitted that the children had been coached by their mother to lie. According to Russell Halpern, an attorney for Mr. Arvizo, “[The mother] wrote all of their testimony. I actually saw the script.”6
Halpern was hired when a bitter custody battle arose between the Arvizos following their divorce in 2001. The dispute took an unexpected turn when Janet Arvizo accused her ex-husband of being abusive, an allegation that was initially denied by the couple’s three children.
In October 2001, social workers were called to investigate the Arvizo family following an altercation that had taken place in their home. When questioned on their own, the children did not allude to any abuse on the father’s part. “There was no hitting, just yelling, and not a lot of yelling,” the children told social workers.
When Janet Arvizo returned home and discovered that the Department of Children and Family Services had interviewed her children without her there, she immediately got in contact with the agency. Social workers returned to the family’s apartment and interviewed the Arvizos again. In the presence of their mother, the children drastically changed their story, alleging that their father was indeed abusive.
In the follow-up report, David Arvizo is accused of kicking Anne and allegedly breaking her tailbone, hitting Rob in the head and punching him in the stomach, slapping one of John’s scars while it was still in the process of healing and holding Janet Arvizo’s head under water. The children alleged that their father had threatened to have them killed if they ever told anybody about the purported abuse.7
Janet Arvizo further claimed that her ex-husband had molested and falsely imprisoned their daughter 12 years earlier, allegations that only materialized during the custody battle. According to court documents, Mrs. Arvizo “could not provide any other pertinent information regarding [the alleged molestation].”8 Years later, Janet Arvizo and her children would level similar allegations against Michael Jackson.
David Arvizo pleaded no-contest to the charges and was barred from seeing his children as a result. During an interview on Larry King Live, Russell Halpern, who is currently trying to obtain visitation rights for his client, discussed court documents that indicate that the abuse allegations against the father were false.
“[Janet] was specifically asked, ‘did he ever hit you?’ and she said ‘no’ and then she elaborated by saying he was a wonderful husband, he had never touched her, he didn’t have it in him to touch a woman and he had never touched the children, never as far as even spanking the kids.”9
In court papers that were later filed during the custody proceedings, Janet Arvizo painted a startlingly different picture of her ex-husband, claiming that her children were terrified of him. “Every single night, one of my sons barricades the front door by putting two chairs in front of the door,” she alleged. “He also puts a boogie board and an archery arrow against the front door… Both boys sleep with baseball bats.”10
How can Janet Arvizo’s conflicting statements regarding her ex-husband be explained? It should be noted that the allegations against the children’s father only materialized in October 2001 – exactly one month before the Arvizos were set to receive a $152,500 settlement from JCPenney.
The above incidents lend credence to the defense theory that Janet Arvizo has a propensity for telling contradictory stories, coaching her children to lie and using abuse allegations for her own personal gain.
JACKSON MEETS HIS ACCUSER
But just how did Michael Jackson, arguably one of the most famous entertainers on the planet, get involved with the troubled Arvizo family?
Four years ago, Janet Arvizo’s oldest son John, a recovering cancer patient, made a request through the Make a Wish Foundation to meet Michael Jackson. Jackson obliged and eventually formed a friendship with the boy and his family. Mrs. Arvizo characterized her children’s relationship with the singer as a “loving father, sons and daughters one,” even crediting Jackson with helping John overcome his bout with cancer.11
Court documents reveal that this was not the first time that the Arvizos had used the boy’s cancer as a way to get close to celebrities. According to a report filed by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services: “Mom said that they met the celebrities due to her son’s illness and that the celebrities are very supportive of her son and their family.”
Janet Arvizo also told a caseworker that through her son’s cancer, she had “found ways to get things for her kids,”12 a claim that is supported by the following stories.
In late 2000, a local newspaper ran an article about the Arvizo family after Mrs. Arvizo told the editors about her son’s plight with cancer. “She pleaded her case that her son needed all sorts of medical care and they had no financial means to provide it,” recalls editor Connie Keenan. At Mrs. Arvizo’s request, Keenan asked her readers to donate money to help the family pay for John Arvizo’s cancer treatments. The newspaper managed to raise a total of $965 for the Arvizo family, money that Mrs. Arvizo wanted to have “sent to her in her name, at her home address.”
Investigative reporter Harvey Levin later revealed that all of John Arvizo’s medical bills were covered by insurance. “There were no medical bills,” Levin reported. “The father of this boy was covered, the entire family covered, by insurance, one hundred percent. They didn’t have to pay a cent.” Evidently, Mrs. Arvizo had lied to the newspaper, using her son’s illness as a means to con readers into giving her money.
When interviewed by Celebrity Justice, Connie Keenan expressed outrage over Mrs. Arvizo’s actions. “My readers were used. My staff was used. It’s sickening.”13
A similar incident occured less than a year later. In October 2001, John and Rob Arvizo were cutting class when two members of the Los Angeles Police Department approached them. When the officers asked the children why they were not in school, Rob began to cry and explained that they were on their way to the hospital to visit their mother who had just undergone surgery. The officers took pity on the boys and offered to drive them.
On route, John announced to the officers that he had just had a 16-pound tumour, his spleen and his kidney removed; he then proceeded to show them his scars.
Coincidentally, the same officers ran into Janet Arvizo several weeks later. Mrs. Arvizo informed them that she was unemployed and on her way to a job interview. Deciding that they needed to help the Arvizos, the officers bought the family Christmas dinner, presents, ornaments for their tree (which had been donated to them by another group of officers) and school supplies.14
While the officers involved deserve to be commended for their generosity, it remains to be seen why the Arvizos were accepting money and gifts from strangers less than a month after receiving a six figure out of court settlement from JCPenney.
Just like the LAPD officers, Jackson got involved with the Arvizo family because he “felt bad.” In an interview with journalist Ed Bradley, Jackson explained that he simply wanted to give John “a chance to have a life… he was told he was going to die… they told his parents [to] prepare for his funeral, that’s how bad it was. And I put him on a program. I’ve helped many children doing this. I put him on a mental program.”15
In February 2003, John Arvizo was featured in Living with Michael Jackson, a British documentary on Jackson’s life. While journalist Martin Bashir’s interview with John briefly touched on the positive influence that Jackson had had on the boy’s recovery, the focus of the interview shifted when John announced – seemingly out of nowhere – that he had once spent the night in Jackson’s bedroom.
“There was one night, I asked him if I could stay in the bedroom and he let me stay in the bedroom,” John told Bashir. Jackson quickly pointed out that the boy, accompanied by his younger brother, had slept in Jackson’s bed while Jackson slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.16
Regardless, this scene – along with Jackson’s claim that there is nothing inappropriate about falling asleep next to a child – led to a firestorm of controversy.
As the public outcry against Michael Jackson reached a fevered pitch, sexual abuse allegations that had been made against the singer ten years earlier would soon come back to haunt him.
The media backlash that accompanied the February 2003 airing of Martin Bashir’s documentary reached its pinnacle when a past scandal involving Jackson and child molestation allegations resurfaced. In 1993, a 13-year-old boy named Jordan Chandler had accused the singer of sexual abuse. Several days after Living with Michael Jackson aired, the boy’s graphic deposition from that case was released on the Internet.17 Many felt that given the nature of those allegations, it was highly inappropriate for Jackson to be sharing his bedroom with children.
Although Jackson was never criminally charged in 1993, it is a widely known fact that he settled a civil lawsuit that had been filed against him by Jordan Chandler and his parents. The boy then refused to testify against Jackson, leading many to believe that his silence had been bought. Court documents reveal, however, that the settlement did not prevent the Chandlers from testifying against Jackson in a criminal trial; it was their own decision not to cooperate with authorities.18
So why did Michael Jackson opt to settle the civil lawsuit? According to legal secretary Geraldine Hughes, the civil trial was scheduled to precede the criminal trial, which would have been a violation of Jackson’s constitutional right to not self-incriminate. This, Hughes contends, prompted Jackson’s lawyers to advise him to settle the case.
Consistent with Hughes’ explanation, court documents show that Jackson’s lawyers filed a motion in 1994 asking for the civil proceedings to be stayed until after the criminal case was resolved; had their request been granted, any potential settlement would have been negotiated after the criminal trial was over. The motion, however, was denied.
Hughes describes the implications that would have resulted from the judge’s refusal to postpone the civil proceedings. “There was the threat of Michael Jackson having to face double jeopardy in having to defend himself in the criminal case as well as the civil case, even though the law is clearly designed to prevent a defendant from having to be tried twice on the same issue at the same time.”
Jackson’s lawyers filed another motion in 1994 asking for the District Attorney to be blocked from obtaining evidence used in the civil proceedings, a request that was also rejected. Hughes explains, “The District Attorney’s office was also laying in wait to utilize the information that was going to be uncovered or revealed in the civil lawsuit for use in their criminal investigation.”
Had Jackson not settled the civil case, he would have put his defense strategy in jeopardy by revealing his exculpatory evidence to the prosecution months before the criminal case went to trial.
Hughes was a legal secretary for Barry Rothman, the divorce lawyer who represented Jackson’s accuser’s father Evan Chandler. In her book Redemption: The Truth Behind the Michael Jackson Child Molestation Allegations, Hughes asserts that the allegations were part of an elaborate plan conceived by Chandler and Rothman to extort money from Jackson,19 an opinion that is substantiated by an audiotape of Chandler speaking to his son’s stepfather on the phone.
On the tape, which was recorded before the boy had made any allegations, Chandler can be heard saying, “I am prepared to move against Michael Jackson. It’s already set. There are other people involved that are waiting for my phone call that are in certain positions. I’ve paid them to do it.”
“Everything’s going according to a certain plan that isn’t just mine. Once I make that phone call, this guy is going to destroy everybody in sight in any devious, nasty, cruel way that he can do it. And I’ve given him full authority to do that.”
He continues, “And if I go through with this, I win big-time. There’s no way I lose. I’ve checked that inside out. I will get everything I want… and Michael’s career will be over.”
“This attorney I found, I picked the nastiest son of a bitch I could find. All he wants to do is get this out in the public as fast as he can, as big as he can, and humiliate as many people as he can. He’s nasty, he’s mean, he’s very smart, and he’s hungry for the publicity.”
In 1994, journalist Mary Fischer did a five-month investigation into the allegations and also concluded that Jackson was the victim of extortion. Her article Was Michael Jackson Framed appeared in GQ Magazine and explores the case from its inception. Citing a KCBS-TV newsman (Harvey Levin) as her source, Fischer reported that Jordan Chandler did not make any allegations against Michael Jackson until he took a trip to his father’s dental office where he was given a memory-altering drug. “In the presence of [Evan] Chandler and Mark Torbiner, a dental anesthesiologist, the boy was administered the controversial drug sodium amytal… and it was after this session that the boy first made his charges against Jackson.”20
In a lengthy rebuttal to Fischer’s article, the boy’s uncle Ray Chandler claimed that the sodium amytal allegation was false; he even went so far as to declare that the entire story was a “fairytale” concocted by somebody within the Jackson camp.21
Surprisingly enough, official documents that are currently for sale on Ray Chandler’s website corroborate Fischer’s report. A transcript from one of Jordan Chandler’s therapy sessions describes the circumstances under which the boy first told his father about the alleged abuse. Jordan Chandler’s account of what happened is exactly consistent with Fischer’s.
According to the boy: “[My father] had to pull my tooth out one time, like, while I was there. And I don’t like pain, so I said, ‘could you put me to sleep?’ And he said sure. So his friend put me to sleep; he’s an anesthesiologist. And um, when I woke up… my Dad said, ‘I just want you to let me know, did anything happen between you and Michael?’ And I said ‘Yes,’ and he gave me a big hug and that was it.”22
Based on Jordan Chandler’s own recollection of events, he was indeed given a drug before he came forward with the abuse allegations against Michael Jackson. While the boy never specified the name of the drug, it is likely that it was in fact sodium amytal because every other detail from Fischer’s report turned out to be accurate.
If Jordan Chandler was given sodium amytal before he accused Michael Jackson of sexual abuse, what implications does this have on the veracity of the boy’s allegations?
Although sodium amytal was originally believed to be a truth serum, subsequent experiments found statements made by those under its influence to be highly unreliable. “Investigations noted that the drug makes patients vulnerable to either accidental or deliberate suggestions from the interviewer,” explains August Piper Jr., an expert on false memory syndrome.23 According to Jordan Chandler, it was only after he had been drugged that his father began to probe him about his relationship with Jackson.
In his rebuttal to Fischer’s article, Ray Chandler expressed scepticism about the drug’s ability to convince the boy that he had been molested but psychiatrist Peggy Elam insists that sodium amytal can “increase the patient’s confidence in his or her memory – even when the memory may be false.”24
After the drug had been administered, Evan Chandler took his son to see a psychiatrist; while there, the boy came out with the explicit allegations against Michael Jackson, prompting a police investigation.
The prosecution, led by Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon and Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, was unable to find any credible corroborating evidence; once the boy refused to testify, the case fell apart. Fischer sums up the 1993 case by saying, “police and prosecutors spent millions of dollars to create a case whose foundation never existed.”25
Tom Sneddon clearly disagreed with Fischer’s assessment of his case. He repeatedly implied that there was indeed evidence to corroborate the boy’s story but failed to provide an explanation as to why two grand juries did not indict the pop star if such evidence actually existed.26 In 1995, he told Vanity Fair magazine: “The state of the investigation is in suspension until somebody comes forward.”27
Upon viewing the Living with Michael Jackson documentary, Sneddon saw an opportunity to re-open the case. In a press statement released on February 5, 2003, Sneddon said: “After conversations with Sheriff Jim Anderson, it was agreed that the BBC broadcast would be taped by the Sheriff’s Department. It is anticipated that it will be reviewed.” Regarding Jackson’s comments that he had allowed children to sleep in his bedroom, Sneddon replied by saying that it was, “unusual at best. For this reason, all local departments having responsibility in this are taking the matter seriously.”
Elsewhere in the statement, Sneddon stressed the fact that the case could not go forward without a “cooperative victim.”28 Coincidentally, the very same boy who appeared in the documentary would later become Jackson’s second accuser.
Sneddon was not the only principal player from the 1993 case who came out of the woodwork after the airing of the Bashir documentary. In February 2003, the Chandlers’ former civil attorney Gloria Allred made numerous television appearances where she demanded that Jackson’s children be removed from his custody.29
Larry Feldman, the civil lawyer who negotiated the $15 million settlement on behalf of the Chandlers in 1994, also spoke to the press, vehemently denying that his office was responsible for leaking Jordan Chandler’s deposition.30
Finally, in a salacious Dateline NBC special entitled Michael Jackson Unmasked, Bill Dworin, a retired LAPD officer who had worked on the Jackson case and Ray Chandler, the uncle of Jackson’s accuser, spoke to correspondent Josh Mankiewicz. Both Dworin and Chandler claimed that there was strong evidence to prove Jackson’s guilt in the 1993 case.31
According to the defense, it was during this time that the Arvizo family began to cause problems within the Jackson camp. The family’s alleged suspicious behaviour coupled with the public relations disaster that ensued after the airing of Living with Michael Jackson prompted Jackson to hire criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos.
THE ARVIZOS GO ON RECORD
“I was brought in [in February 2003] when somebody wisely, in retrospect, felt that there was something wrong here with this particular family,” Michael Jackson’s former defense attorney Mark Geragos explained during an interview on Larry King Live. “We put a plan into action in terms of investigating and documenting things because people… suspected that something was going to happen.”
The “plan” involved getting the Arvizos to sign numerous affidavits where they swore that nothing inappropriate had ever happened between John Arvizo and Michael Jackson. Geragos also had his Private Investigator make video and audio recordings of the Arvizo family defending Jackson.32
The prosecution would later claim that the Arvizos were intimidated into making these statements33 but testimony from Janet Arvizo’s husband Jay Jackson seems to contradict this theory. According to Jay Jackson, the Arvizos were at his house, not Michael Jackson’s, when Geragos’ Private Investigator interviewed them.34
Jackson’s former videographer Christian Robinson recalls taping another interview with the Arvizo family where he repeatedly asked them whether or not Jackson had done anything wrong. “They were very up front and they of course said absolutely not. All of them… I’d ask them one thing and it’s almost like they were getting mad at me, [saying] ‘why are you asking us this? Michael is innocent.’”35
Journalist Ed Bradley had a similar experience with the Arvizo family when he visited Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in February 2003. “We sat in the kitchen having coffee and doughnuts and sodas and [Janet Arvizo] and the kids said they were willing to go on television to say what a great person Michael Jackson was.”36
In addition to making positive statements about Jackson to his defense team and to his employees, the Arvizos also denied any wrong doing on Jackson’s part to social workers throughout February 2003.
AUTHORITIES GET INVOLVED
Prompted by what was shown on the Living with Michael Jackson documentary, a school official contacted the Department of Children and Family Services and requested that they investigate Jackson. From February 14th to February 27th, 2003, social workers interviewed the Arvizos, who all maintained that Jackson had never acted inappropriately around them. Mrs. Arvizo stated that her children had never been left alone with Jackson and that they had never slept in a bed with him.37
Another investigation was launched when media psychiatrist Carole Lieberman filed a complaint with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department in February 2003. She asked for Jackson to be investigated and also demanded that his children be removed from his custody. “Bubbles the Chimp [Jackson’s former pet] is reportedly now living in an animal sanctuary. One would wonder how and why that came about. If Mr. Jackson is unable to take good enough care of his pet chimpanzee, shouldn’t you be concerned about his children?”
About the boy in the documentary, Lieberman noted: “There was an unmistakable sense that something sexual had occurred with [the boy], as evidenced by his body language and his submissive demeanour towards Michael.”38
The SBCSD investigated and closed the case on April 16th with “no further action required.” The SBCSD report cites interviews with the Arvizos that were conducted by three Los Angeles social workers. According to the alleged victim: “Michael is like a father to me, he’s never done anything to me sexually.” He added that he had “never slept in bed with Michael,” and that his mother was “always aware of what goes on in Neverland.”
Janet Arvizo told social workers that: “Michael is like a father to my children, he loves them and I trust my children with him.” Of Jackson, she said he had “never been anything but wonderful. My children have never felt uncomfortable in his presence. Michael has been a blessing.” The boy’s older sister also defended Jackson saying, “Michael is so kind and loving.”39
How did the Arvizo family go from praising Jackson to making such serious allegations against him?
If we are to believe the prosecution’s version of events, Jackson’s employees intimidated the Arvizo family into defending Jackson to social workers, Private Investigators, journalists and virtually every other person who had come into contact with the family after Living with Michael Jackson aired. Once Jackson had all of their statements on record, he then molested the boy.
But if Michael Jackson is telling the truth, the family only made accusations against him when their other attempts to get money from him failed.
NOT AFTER MONEY?
After the airing of the Bashir interview, Janet Arvizo and her then-boyfriend Jay Jackson made several attempts to cash in on their connection to Michael Jackson. They sold their story to a British tabloid but, at that point, only had positive things to say about the pop star.40 Janet Arvizo seemed outraged by people’s reaction to Bashir’s documentary and filed an official complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Commission.41
Janet Arvizo also planned to file a lawsuit against the company that aired the documentary and, in February 2003, hired civil lawyer William Dickerman to represent her in the case. Dickerman told ABC News: “[The boy] had been on camera, there had been no consent given and when she found out about it, she was absolutely livid.”42
Michael Jackson seemed equally angered by the tone of the documentary and began compiling footage for a rebuttal video. To counter the negative publicity surrounding his relationships with children, Jackson had John Arvizo and his family film interviews where they made statements in the pop star’s defense. The footage was supposed to be included in the rebuttal video but Jay Jackson demanded financial compensation in return for the family’s participation.
During a pre-trial hearing, Jackson recalled saying to one of Michael Jackson’s associates: “This family has nothing and you’re making millions from [the rebuttal video] and what are you going to do for this little family?” To appease Jay Jackson, the associate offered the family a house and the children a college education in exchange for their permission to use the footage. Jackson refused the offer, instead making a demand for money.
Jay Jackson also testified that in February 2003, he was approached by two British journalists who were interested in paying for the family’s story.43 According to one of the journalists who got in contact with the family, “The starting figure was $500 from myself, and that’s supposedly when [Jackson] consulted with the mother.” Jackson came back with a demand for $15,000 and was turned away.44
When their attempts to cash in on the post-Bashir controversy failed, the Arvizo family filed for emergency help in March 2003. Court documents reveal that a week later, Janet Arvizo filed for an increase in alimony from her ex-husband and asked for her child support to be doubled.45
Shortly after, she returned to Dickerman with plans to sue Michael Jackson for an issue unrelated to child molestation.
Dickerman began writing a series of letters to Mark Geragos, claiming that Jackson was in possession of some of the family’s belongings including furniture and passports. Dickerman demanded the return of these items and also alleged that the family was being “harassed” and “terrorized” by Mark Geragos’ Private Investigator Bradley Miller.46 It would be months before the Arvizo family would take these claims to the police.
While the letters were seemingly sent to assist the Arvizos in getting their furniture and passports back, it appears that Dickerman was more interested in gaining access to any evidence that could potentially prove Jackson’s innocence if the family were to later accuse the pop star of child molestation.
In a letter dated March 26, 2003, Dickerman wrote: “The Arvizos demand that Jackson immediately provide the originals and all copies of all tapes, films and audio recordings… that were made by or on behalf of Jackson… and return to them the papers they have signed including… documents in connection with the legal action in Britain concerning Living with Michael Jackson and anything else bearing their signatures.”47
While the relationship between Michael Jackson and the Arvizos had obviously become contentious after the airing of the Bashir documentary, they maintained all along that Jackson had never sexually abused the boy. That all changed in May 2003, when Larry Feldman – the civil lawyer who brokered a $15 million settlement for Jackson’s first accuser – entered the picture.
ENTER: LARRY FELDMAN
After meeting with Larry Feldman, the civil lawyer who had represented Michael Jackson’s first accuser, John Arvizo finally came forward with the sexual abuse allegations against the pop star; his younger brother Rob backed up his story, claiming to have witnessed the alleged abuse. Feldman sent the boys to see psychiatrist Stan Katz, who had also been involved in the 1993 case.
According to documents obtained by NBC, Dr. Katz told John Arvizo, “Look, if you go ahead with this civil lawsuit, your family will get money if they win.” Suddenly, lurid details about the alleged abuse began to materialize. John Arvizo claimed that while at Neverland he “drank alcohol every night and got buzzed.” When he told Jackson that his head hurt, he was supposedly told to: “keep drinking, it will make it feel better.”
Rob Arvizo alleged that he and his brother “constantly sleep in Michael’s room with Michael… in Michael’s bed.” He claimed to have witnessed Jackson touch his brother inappropriately on at least two separate occasions.48
These were the same children who, less than four months earlier, had vehemently defended Jackson to social workers. For some reason, after all of their previous denials of abuse on Jackson’s part, the Arvizo children drastically changed their story after getting involved with Feldman and Katz, two key players from the 1993 case against Jackson.
Feldman visited the Department of Children and Family Services and asked them to overturn their “unfounded” ruling from February 2003. The DCFS refused, saying that because the boy was not in immediate danger, there was nothing else they could do.49 Dr. Katz then reported the alleged abuse to the Santa Barbara Police Department who subsequently launched an investigation in June 2003.
In addition to having been involved with both Jordan Chandler and John Arvizo, Dr. Katz had another connection to the Jackson case – his list of patients also included Bradley Miller, the Private Investigator who had been hired by Mark Geragos to keep an eye on the Arvizo family throughout February 2003.
Katz told authorities about Miller’s involvement in the case and also informed them about a tape that Miller had made of the family defending Jackson in mid-February.50 In what appears to be a highly unusual move, Santa Barbara authorities then asked the accuser’s stepfather Jay Jackson to help them investigate Miller. Working as a “confidential agent,” Jackson was sent to scope out the location of Miller’s office and report his findings back to the SBPD.51
After five months of investigating, the Santa Barbara Police Department was ready to go forward with its case. But first, the Arvizo family would have to agree to put their civil lawsuit on hold and go forward with the criminal case against Michael Jackson.
JACKSON IS ARRESTED AND CHARGED
In June 2003, Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon began to personally investigate the Arvizo family’s claims against Michael Jackson. In a police interview, Janet Arvizo alleged that Jackson’s employees had relentlessly victimized her and her family. In one instance, Jackson’s representatives allegedly showed up at the Arvizos’ apartment and demanded that the family move to Brazil. “One of the reasons was because there was [sic] people that were gonna kill the children and me… mostly my children,” Mrs. Arvizo told investigators.
Janet Arvizo believed that the true motive behind the alleged proposed trip was to prevent the family from speaking to investigators.
She further claimed that Jackson had begun to spy on her when he felt that she was asking too many questions about his alleged relationship with her son. “One time I remember the kids telling me that up on the top of the hill, there’s like a little… like, a thing. And Michael had taken up the kids up there to look in my bedroom. Like a telescope thing and I thought they were kidding. Michael wanted to see what I was doing in there.”
When Mrs. Arvizo eventually tried to put an end to her son’s alleged relationship with Michael Jackson, the boy supposedly shot her in her pinkie toe with a BB gun.
During the interview, Janet Arvizo assured investigators that she was not after Michael Jackson’s money. “God handpicked me and the kids because he knew that we weren’t going to fall for any of their money. That it was going to be justice more than anything.”52 On the contrary, notes from the boy’s therapist reveal that at the time, the Arvizos were planning to file a lawsuit against Jackson with the help of civil attorney Larry Feldman.53
Their plans to sue the pop star, however, would have to wait; after 1993, Sneddon amended California law so that if civil and criminal proceedings arose over the same allegation, the civil proceedings would be stayed until after the criminal case was resolved.54 Consequently, if the family had chosen to go forward with their lawsuit, the proceedings would have remained inactive until the statute of limitations in the criminal case expired.
While it would be years before the Arvizo family could seek monetary damages from Jackson in court, Sneddon informed them of a state victim’s fund that would provide them with financial compensation if they persisted with the allegations. In November, Sneddon met with Janet Arvizo in an empty parking lot to provide her with the necessary paperwork to apply for the fund.55 Less than a month later, the case went forward.
John Arvizo and his family provided authorities with a fifty-page affidavit detailing their allegations. In addition to the child molestation accusations, the Arvizos also claimed that they had been held hostage at Jackson’s Neverland ranch for several weeks in February 2003, the same month throughout which the family had made numerous attempts to cash in on their connection to Jackson.56 Using the affidavit to show probable cause, Sneddon obtained a warrant for Michael Jackson’s arrest as well as a warrant to search Neverland Ranch.
After raiding Neverland on November 18th, 2003, authorities also searched the office of Mark Geragos’ Private Investigator Bradley Miller and the home of Jackson’s former videographer Hamid Moslehi. During the raid of Moslehi’s home, Sneddon confiscated a tape that featured footage of the accusing family praising Jackson.
The contents of the tape would present a problem for the prosecution: the interview with the family was conducted in February 2003 but according to the family’s affidavit, Jackson had molested the boy and kidnapped the family that very same month.57 Having access to this tape gave Sneddon an opportunity to familiarize himself with Jackson’s defense strategy, which would most likely centre on the Arvizo family’s inconsistent statements.
In spite of this evidence, Sneddon continued with the case. On November 19, he held a press conference where his behaviour led many to believe that he had a grudge against Michael Jackson stemming from the 1993 case. Despite the serious nature of the allegations, Sneddon and Sheriff Jim Anderson created a jovial atmosphere by making several jokes at Jackson’s expense.58
After Jackson was arrested, Sneddon gave an exclusive interview to tabloid reporter Diane Dimond where he referred to the pop star as “Jacko Wacko” but strongly denied having a vendetta against him.59 He later apologized for his comments, saying, “If my mom was still alive she would take me to task for not being a good person.”60
On December 18th, 2003, Jackson was charged with 7 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under the age of 14 and 2 counts of administering an intoxicating agent. These alleged acts took place on or between February 7th and March 10th.61
As soon as the charges against Jackson were filed, many inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case were revealed. The Arvizo family’s litigious past, for example, immediately became the focus of much media attention. The general public learned about the accusations that Janet Arvizo had levelled against JCPenney and her ex-husband, as well as her alleged history of coaching her children to lie under oath.
Many also began to question the timing of the supposed abuse. According to the charges, the alleged molestation began on February 7th – the day after Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson documentary aired in the United States. Many found it implausible that Jackson would have started to molest the boy while in the midst of a huge scandal involving him and past accusations of child abuse.
Furthermore, both the Department of Children and Family Services and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department had investigated Jackson in February 2003 and concluded based on their interviews with the Arvizos that no abuse had taken place. It seems unlikely that Jackson could have molested the boy while being investigated for suspected child abuse by two separate government agencies.
But perhaps the most damning blow to the prosecution’s case was Mark Geragos’ claim that Jackson had an alibi. “The timeline is ridiculous. Michael has a concrete, ironclad alibi for the dates they are saying this abuse took place. The fact of the matter is, no abuse ever happened.”62
To overcome these inconsistencies, Tom Sneddon made several changes to the charges against Jackson.
JACKSON CHARGED WITH CONSPIRACY TO KIDNAP
Although Tom Sneddon had officially filed a criminal complaint against Michael Jackson in December 2003, he later brought his case in front of a grand jury, which resulted in a new 10-count indictment. The new charges indicate that either the Arvizos drastically changed their story or Tom Sneddon intentionally made alterations to his case in order to make the accusations appear more logical.
On April 30th, 2004, Jackson was indicted by a grand jury on four counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor, four counts of administering an intoxicating agent, one count of attempted child molestation and one count of conspiracy. These alleged acts took place on or between February 20th and March 12th 2003.63
According to the original complaint, the sexual abuse timeline began on February 7th. A memo from the Department of Children and Family Services, however, reveals that on February 20th, the entire family defended Jackson to social workers and maintained that he had never even been alone with the boy. Based on these statements, it seems highly unlikely that any abuse occurred between February 7th and February 20th. In the new set of charges, these three weeks have disappeared from the timeline. The abuse is now alleged to have begun after February 20th, rendering the family’s initial statements to social workers irrelevant.
Another notable difference in the accuser’s story – besides the shift in the timeline and the change in the amount of times he was allegedly abused – is that the charges in the complaint state that John Arvizo was only given alcohol twice, indicating that he was sober throughout most of the occurrences of alleged abuse. The charges in the indictment, however, suggest that the boy was intoxicated throughout every incidence of alleged abuse.
The most questionable change, however, is that the conspiracy allegation was not included in the original charges. In the indictment, Jackson is accused of 28 overt acts of conspiracy including child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.64 The prosecution alleges that Jackson conspired with five unnamed employees to kidnap the Arvizo family and force them into making positive statements on his behalf. According to prosecutor Gordon Auchincloss, Jackson did this to improve his public image after the airing of the Living with Michael Jackson documentary.65 He then allegedly molested the boy.
As a result of the conspiracy charge, the prosecution can now attempt to discredit all of Jackson’s exculpatory evidence. The Arvizo family’s previous denials of abuse, for example, can be justified by the allegation that the family was forced to defend him.
Secondly, testimony from potential defense witnesses who may have observed erratic or suspicious behaviour on the part of the Arvizos can now be discredited by the charge that Jackson’s associates were involved in a criminal conspiracy against the family.
Finally, if Jackson does have an alibi for all of the dates of the purported abuse, the prosecution can simply claim that the alibi was also involved in the supposed conspiracy.
To the average observer, the allegations against Michael Jackson might now appear consistent but to those who have followed the case closely, the question remains why the charges only took their current form after Jackson’s defense strategy was revealed to the prosecution.
Although the major discrepancies in Sneddon’s case have been eradicated, there are still several problems with the charges against Jackson, particularly with the allegation that he held the Arvizo family hostage at Neverland throughout February and March 2003.
According to Janet Arvizo’s divorce attorney Michael Manning, his client was still praising Michael Jackson as late as May 2003. “‘He was really good to us’ – that’s what she said at the time,” Manning recalled. “If it turned sour, I don’t know how.”66
Another problem with the conspiracy allegation is that although five of Jackson’s associates were allegedly involved in the kidnapping of the family, Jackson is the only one who has been charged with a crime. The five alleged co-conspirators remain un-indicted and have all been offered immunity if they agree to testify against Jackson.
Joe Tacopina, an attorney for one of the accused co-conspirators, insists that his client has rejected Sneddon’s offer of immunity and maintains that the Arvizo family’s claims are ludicrous.
“If [Mrs. Arvizo] were being held hostage, then I guess during one of her shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive she could have told a store manager while she was buying a thousand-dollar dress,” Tacopina told the Santa Barbara News Press.67 In another interview, Tacopina claimed that the kidnapping allegations “are going to fall by the wayside when tested, when challenged, when examined under cross examination… there are documents out there that will absolutely shred these allegations.”68
An attorney for another alleged co-conspirator had a similar story to tell. “From what [my client] saw, [the Arvizos] were certainly in no way under any type of duress,” Michael Bachner told a reporter. “They freely went around to speak to whomever they wanted. They went shopping. They made phone calls. They did everything free people do.”69
Ron Konitzer, a former employee of Jackson’s who is now accused of conspiring against the Arvizos, insists that innocent facts have been twisted to fit the prosecution’s version of events. “It was a very natural development of events and a normal professional move that has been taken out of context,” Konitzer said of the measures that were taken to restore Jackson’s image after Living with Michael Jackson aired, measures that are now being used by the prosecution as evidence of a conspiracy.
“There was no cover-up,” Konitzer continued. “We were working around the clock at the ranch for 10 days in a row – with my family even there – and I can tell you the one thing I remember is a bunch of kids running around and having fun. There was nothing I saw that even resembled anything near imprisonment.”70
Even testimony from Janet Arvizo’s husband seems to contradict the family’s claims of kidnapping. Jay Jackson testified that Janet Arvizo and her children had returned to Neverland several times in April 2003 – one month after the conspiracy timeline ended. “She somehow or another got back there,” Jackson told the court.71
If Michael Jackson had kidnapped the family in February 2003, why was Janet Arvizo still praising the pop star in May 2003? Why did she return to Neverland after allegedly being held hostage there? Why did it take her three months to contact the police? Why did she contact a civil lawyer first?
Another aspect of the case that has come into question is the behaviour of the authorities involved. Recently, Jackson’s defense team challenged the indictment, alleging that the prosecution engaged in excessive misconduct throughout the grand jury proceedings. In a 126-page motion filed by the defense, Sneddon is accused of bullying witnesses, failing to properly present exculpatory evidence, refusing to let the jurors question the prosecution witnesses and providing the jurors with a false legal definition of the term ‘conspiracy.’
According to the motion: “There is simply no evidence that Mr. Jackson had the specific intent to agree or conspire with anyone about anything.”
To support this contention, the defense pointed out that a key witness to the alleged conspiracy had never even met Jackson. Transcripts reveal that when she testified, the witness, who was employed by Jackson for ten days in February 2003, answered questions with responses such as “I’m not sure,” “I guess,” “I assume,” “I don’t know exactly” and “I think.” 72
It was also revealed that Sneddon used Jackson’s predilection for a clean household to support the conspiracy allegation. The motion reads: “It is simply not reasonable to infer that Mr. Jackson’s preference for a well run household demonstrates the specific intent to commit crimes. Evidence that Mr. Jackson would complain to his staff when household chores were not done properly is not evidence that he was directing a criminal conspiracy.”73
In another motion, the defense charged that because Private Investigator Bradley Miller worked for Jackson’s former defense attorney Mark Geragos, the evidence taken from his office during the November 18th raid is protected by attorney-client privilege. Although Sneddon admittedly told Jackson’s defense team that he was aware of Miller’s professional relationship with Geragos at the time of the raid, he later retracted his confession, claiming it was a “mistake borne out of being upset and angry.”74 Judge Rodney Melville ruled in favour of the prosecution, deeming the raid on Miller’s office legal despite the fact that Jackson’s attorney-client privileges had been violated.75
According to the defense team: “There is no case in the history of the state of California that has condoned anything like the abuse of power demonstrated in this grand jury proceeding.”76
The question still remains, however, why a veteran prosecutor would risk his reputation by filing such dubious charges, especially when the case in question has garnered unprecedented media attention. Does Sneddon truly believe that Michael Jackson is guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused or are there other motives involved in his relentless pursuit of the pop star? A careful examination of these questions reveals a sordid pattern of greed, corruption and blackmail within the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office.