Police search pop icon Michael Jackson's ranch after abuse allegations

Marc Lavine | November 19, 2003

AFP Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Maria Superior Court 13 November 2002, in a trial in which he is accused of canceling concert appearances, costing the promoter several million dollars. Police and prosecutors' investigators 18 November, 2003 swooped on pop icon Jackson's 'Neverland' ranch in California, declining to give the reason for the search. The raid comes nine months after prosecutors investigated his admission in an interview that he slept in the same bed as a 12-year-old boy before dismissing claims of wrongdoing. (Photo: AFP)
LOS ANGELES — Police and prosecutors Tuesday swooped on pop icon Michael Jackson's lavish Neverland Ranch amid fresh allegations that the superstar abused a 12-year-old boy, a Jackson lawyer said.

Between 60 and 70 investigators armed with a search warrant issued by a judge raided the sprawling estate near Santa Barbara, California, at 8:30 am (1630 GMT), Senior Sheriff's Deputy Tim Gracey told AFP.

Police declined to reveal the reason for the dramatic search of the "Gloved One's" retreat that draws its name from the "Peter Pan" children's stories, but said the operation continued well into the evening.

Jackson family lawyer Brian Oxman confirmed reports that said the raid was sparked by new child abuse allegations against the 45-year-old father of three, who was accused of molesting a boy 10 years ago.

"The search warrant indicated that there is an accusation by a 12-year-old boy who says that he was molested and the police are seizing information that the feel is relevant to that accusation," Oxman said.

"We are certain that police will be looking for photographs and they are going to enjoy themselves by looking at all the history of Michael Jackson, but we are very doubtful that they will find anything."

Police said they would announce details of the search at a press conference at 11:00 am (1900 GMT) on Wednesday, just as Jackson releases his first album since Invincible flopped last year.

A battery of police vehicles parked meanwhile outside Jackson's classical-style mansion, which is surrounded by a welter of theme park rides which "Jacko" opens to local children once a year.

Jackson's Los Angeles publicist said he had no idea what the reason was for the raid, saying the singer was out of town, reportedly filming a music video in Las Vegas.

"We cannot comment on law enforcement's investigation because we do not yet know what it is about," said Stuart Backerman.

"Michael will, as always, cooperate fully with authorities in any investigation even as it is conducted, yet again, while he is not home."

The publicist lashed out at media coverage.

"A rogue's gallery of hucksters and self-styled 'inside sources have dominated the airwaves since reports of a search of Neverland broke, speculating, guessing and fabricating information about an investigation they couldn't possibly know about," he said.

Prosecutors in Santa Barbara, the town about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Los Angeles near where eternally-youthful Jackson has lived for years, declined to comment on the raid.

The raid comes nine months after prosecutors investigated his "unusual" admission in a British television interview that he had slept in the same bed as a 12-year-old boy in his mansion.

Any claims of wrongdoing were quickly dismissed and Jackson denied any impropriety with the boy, who he said was a friend, while Court TV said the latest probe was not connected to that incident.

Child advocates had however called for a full probe into the eccentric Peter Pan of music, who in 1993 was accused of sexually abusing a young boy.

The 1993 investigation into child sex allegations against Jackson – a matter that Jackson settled in an undisclosed civil payment – remained "open, but inactive," District Attorney Thomas Sneddon said in February.

The raid marks the latest of a litany of legal and public relations problems faced by the legendary entertainer, whose career and considerable fortune have waned in recent years.

A year ago, he came under fire for dangling his baby son from a fourth floor hotel window in Berlin for photographers.

And this year he has been hit by a flurry of lawsuits by former aides and promoters and rumours that he is all but bankrupt. –Sapa-AFP

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