The Las Vegas cardiologist owed at least $780,000 for settlements against his business, outstanding mortgage payments on his house, delinquent student loans, child support and credit cards. And that doesn’t include the $68,000 the distributor of an energy drink says Murray, a one-time business associate, owes for skipping out on payments.
Court records chronicling Murray’s woes in Las Vegas, where authorities searched his home this week as part of their manslaughter investigation into Jackson’s death, help explain why — beyond basking in a celebrity’s aura — Murray might have jumped at the $150,000-a-month Jackson’s promoter was prepared to pay him to keep the star healthy through a series of concerts in London.
Murray hooked on with Jackson in May, as his bleak financial picture threatened to worsen. He already was under court orders to pay more than $363,000 for equipment for his heart clinic and $71,000 in student loans dating to the 1980s, a judgment that hit in April. Two lawsuits claiming he owes $240,000 more for unpaid equipment are pending in Nevada courts.
And Murray had appeared unable or unwilling to settle more modest debts — a nearly $3,700 judgment for not paying child support and two recent credit card company claims totaling $2,600.
Murray’s 5,268-square-foot home near the 18th hole of a golf course offers no refuge — he’s in “pre-foreclosure” after failing to make payments on his $1.66 million loan, records show. He stopped paying the $15,000-per-month mortgage in December and could lose the home by November, said Mary Hunt, the foreclosure officer handling the case for Stewart Title company.
Authorities investigating Jackson’s death at his rented Los Angeles mansion believe Murray gave the star a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to help him sleep, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Propofol is commonly used for surgeries and is not meant as a sleep agent or to be given in private homes. Because of its potency, only trained anesthesia professionals are supposed to administer it and patients are to be constantly monitored.
Police have not labeled Murray a suspect but have said in search warrants they are seeking evidence he committed manslaughter and prescribed drugs to “an addict,” an apparent reference to Jackson.
Murray, 56, has not spoken publicly since Jackson’s June 25 death. His lawyer, Ed Chernoff, has said the doctor did not prescribe anything that “should have” killed Jackson.
Neither Jackson nor AEG Live, the promoter for the London concerts, paid Murray for the two months the doctor worked for the pop star, according to Chernoff.
“Dr. Murray has lost the ability to make a living as a result of this investigation,” he said. “His hope is he can forestall foreclosure until he can once again begin working as a doctor.”
Murray’s financial background could become an important part of the case if prosecutors file charges, said Rebecca Lonergan, a University of Southern California law professor and former federal prosecutor of health care fraud cases.
“It does potentially provide evidence of good motive for financial-based crimes, including prescribing when there is not a medical necessity,” she said.
Murray’s cresting financial woes fit into a history of money problems. He filed for bankruptcy in California in 1992 and had a string of tax liens from Sacramento and San Bernardino counties as well as Maricopa County, Ariz., between 1993 and 2003.
Several years ago, Murray branched out, striking up a deal with John Thomas, distributor of an energy drink called Pit Bull. Thomas said in 2005 and 2006 Murray had the rights to distribute the drink in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean island nation where Murray lived and worked before coming to the United States in the 1980s to study medicine.
The drink never gained popularity there. Murray paid his bill for a first shipment, then didn’t pay for three subsequent shipments, Thomas said.
Though Thomas said Murray owes him $68,000, he remained friendly with the doctor and spoke briefly with him days before Jackson’s death, when he invited Murray to the opening of a mixed martial arts gym in Las Vegas. Murray told him he was out of town and wouldn’t be able to attend.
“You always think you know a guy,” Thomas said. “All the dirt is coming out now.”
Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Contributing to this report were Associated Press reporters Juan Lozano in Houston, Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles and Tony Fraser in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and AP Researchers Judith Ausbel and Barbara Sambrinski in New York.