| A Michael Jackson supporter in Las Vegas. (AFP)
Santa Barbara (California), Nov. 20 (Reuters): Pop superstar Michael Jackson, a self-styled “Peter Pan” whose relationship with children has long been controversial, was expected today to surrender to California authorities to face multiple charges of child molestation.
The Santa Barbara County sheriff and district attorney said they were giving Jackson, 45, who was in Las Vegas this week shooting a music video, a chance to turn himself in and raise a $3 million bail.
But well after nightfall, the singer had yet to surrender and officials later said they expected Jackson to turn himself in today at one of the county’s two jails — the sheriff's headquarters in Santa Barbara or a smaller booking station in Santa Maria, closer to Jackson’s home, the sprawling, children’s theme park-like Neverland ranch.
District attorney Thomas Sneddon said Jackson will be charged with multiple felony counts under a California law that defines molestation as “arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions or sexual desires of” the offender or a child under age 14. Each charge carries a penalty of three to eight years in prison.
“In a very short period of time there will be charges filed against Jackson,” Sheriff Jim Anderson said, acknowledging there was “always that potential” that Jackson could flee.
Throngs of reporters who gathered late in the evening at an airport near Santa Barbara saw a private jet, believed to be carrying Jackson, land and sit on the tarmac for more than an hour. The plane took off again for parts unknown without any passengers leaving the aircraft.
Jackson’s spokesman yesterday called the allegations false, scurrilous and without foundation. “The outrageous allegations against Michael Jackson are false. Michael would never harm a child in any way. These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom,” spokesman Stuart Backerman said.
Backerman said Jackson had made arrangements with the district attorney in Santa Barbara to return to the city “to immediately confront and prove these charges unfounded.” Jackson has hired celebrity attorney Mark Geragos to defend him.
Police spent more than 14 hours searching and videotaping Neverland Ranch, just north of Santa Barbara in central California on Tuesday. Authorities declined to specify what they were looking for or to divulge other details about the allegations reportedly brought by a 12-year-old boy who said Jackson molested him.
Jackson was the subject of similar child molestation allegations 10 years ago by a 13-year-old boy. But criminal charges were never filed, and Jackson was never arrested, because the accuser declined to testify after Jackson reached a multimillion-dollar out-of-court civil settlement with the boy’s family.