SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Authorities issued a warrant for Michael Jackson’s arrest on charges of molesting a child and asked the pop superstar Wednesday to turn himself in and surrender his passport. Jackson’s spokesman called the allegations “scurrilous and totally unfounded.”
The 45-year-old King of Pop was accused of multiple counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. A decade ago, Jackson was also accused of molestation but was never charged because the youngster refused to testify.
“I am sad that there is another victim out there. I feel bad for the family. I feel bad for the victim. Beyond that, I feel it is a sad thing for all those involved,” District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. said at a news conference.
Jackson was believed to be in Las Vegas working at a recording studio.
“Get over here and get checked in,” the prosecutor said.
Sneddon would not say when or where the alleged crimes took place or how old the youngster was. He said an affidavit outlining the details will be sealed for 45 days.
But Brian Oxman, an attorney who has represented the Jackson family over the years, told CBS that the case involves the alleged molestation of a 12-year-old boy at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, the storybook playground where the singer has been known to hold sleepover parties with children. Oxman is not representing Jackson.
CBS immediately pulled a Jackson music special planned for next Wednesday on his greatest hits and the impact on pop culture of the former child star who got his start with his brothers as a member of the singing-and-dancing Jackson 5.
“Given the gravity of the charges against Mr. Jackson, we believe it would be inappropriate at this time to broadcast an entertainment special,” the network said.
On Tuesday, as many as 70 law enforcement officers spent 12 hours searching the Neverland Ranch for corroborating evidence. The $12.3 million ranch has a mansion, its own zoo and amusement park.
Each of the sex charges is punishable by three to eight years in prison. Sneddon would not say how many counts Jackson faces. Bail will be set at $3 million, authorities said.
Sheriff Jim Anderson said authorities have been in contact with Jackson’s lawyers and the singer has been given the chance to surrender “within a specified period of time.” Anderson refused to say how long that would be.
“I believe he’s willing to cooperate with us,” the sheriff said.
Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman issued a statement saying the singer “has already made arrangements with the district attorney to return to Santa Barbara to immediately confront and prove these charges unfounded.”
“Michael would never harm a child in any way. These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom,” Backerman said.
The announcement of the arrest came at an often-jovial news conference with Anderson and Sneddon. The prosecutor looked sheepish after gesturing so forcefully he knocked over a news organization’s microphone. At another point, he ridiculed a suggestion from Jackson that the allegations were timed to coincide with the release of his latest album.
“Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music,” Sneddon said.
Asked about parents who let their children go to Neverland for sleep-overs, the sheriff responded, “My advice is don’t do it.” The remark drew laughter, and Sneddon added, “None of our kids are there.”
Sneddon also drew chuckles when he welcomed media to Santa Barbara with the line, “I hope that you all stay long and spend lots of money because we need your sales tax to support our offices.” He later noted “that this is a very serious situation.”
Jackson’s spokesman was not amused by the tone of the news conference.
“We are disturbed by the levity of the environment surrounding the announcement of these very serious charges,” Backerman said. “When the evidence is presented and the allegations proven to be malicious and wholly unfounded, Michael will be able to put this nightmare behind him.”
Backerman said Jackson will be represented by attorney Mark Geragos, who is defending Modesto man Scott Peterson against charges he murdered his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.
In 1993, Jackson had faced a child-molestation investigation that never resulted in charges because the child refused to testify. Jackson reportedly paid a multimillion-dollar settlement in that case but maintained his innocence.
California law was specifically changed because of that case, and now a child victim can be forced to testify, Sneddon said. However, Sneddon said the youngster in this case is cooperating.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Jackson denounced the media coverage of the raid and noted that “dreadful allegations” always seem to surface “just as another project, an album, a video is being released.” Jackson’s greatest hits album, “Number Ones,” came out on Tuesday.
The district attorney said the investigation had been under way for a while, and the timing was unrelated to the album.
In a documentary broadcast on ABC earlier this year, Jackson said he had slept in a bed with many children. “When you say bed you’re thinking sexual,” he said in the interview. “It’s not sexual, we’re going to sleep. I tuck them in. … It’s very charming, it’s very sweet.”
Jackson caused an international uproar last year when he displayed his baby, Prince Michael II, to fans by dangling him from a fourth-floor balcony in Germany. Jackson called the incident a “terrible mistake.”
The singer had international hits with the albums “Thriller” (1982), “Bad” (1987) and “Dangerous” (1991), but saw his career begin to collapse after the 1993 allegations.