Video: Looking at family accusing Jackson

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NBC News
updated 12/19/2003 6:14:04 PM ET 2003-12-19T23:14:04

The case has attracted worldwide headlines for more than a month. And now formal criminal charges have been filed against entertainer Michael Jackson -- seven counts of child molestation and two more counts of administering an intoxicating agent. How strong is the case against him? For the first time, you'll hear from a key player in the Jackson story:  He knows this case from the inside, because he's the one the alleged victim's family went to for help, long before these charges became front page news.

It all started with the British documentary "Living With Michael Jackson.” Millions of Americans saw the singer, with a young boy's head on his shoulder, as Jackson held the boy's hand and told the world that even 10 years after first being accused of child molestation, he still shares his bed with children who are not his own.

We now know that this boy is the source of the new charges against Michael Jackson, seven counts of committing what California law describes as lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, and two more counts of giving alcohol to the boy in order to make the molestation easier.

The charging documents allege that Jackson, 45 years old at the time, had “substantial sexual contact” with the boy, at the time a 13-year-oldcancer patient. Through his attorney, Jackson denies the charges.

Mark Geragos: “These charges are not only categorically untrue, but they are driven, driven by two things.  Money and revenge and we will prove that.”

But those who know the young man and his family say that's not true, that the picture painted by the Jackson camp of this sick boy and of his mother is far from accurate.

Josh Mankiewicz: “The boy who's making this accusation and his mother have faced some tremendous criticism over the last couple of weeks. And they've been portrayed as flaky, dishonest, and motivated exclusively by money.  Is that your impression of them?”

Bill Dickerman: “Couldn't be less my impression of them.  I would say my impression is 180 degrees opposite. “

You may never have heard his name, but Los Angeles attorney Bill Dickerman is a key player in this case. He's speaking exclusively with Dateline about his former clients, the family that walked into his office earlier this year.

Dickerman: “The initial motivation that I can tell for them coming to see me was that they were terrified and wanted to know what could be done. They've not come to me to sue Michael Jackson.”

Mankiewicz: “And they haven't sued.”

Dickerman: “They haven't sued. I don't know if they have any intention to sue. These are not wealthy people.  In fact, they're rather poor people, financially.  And if there were ever a situation that called for filing a law suit, I would say this is probably it. So to trash this family because all they're interested in is money is absolutely ridiculous.”

For the first time, a portrait of Jackson's accuser and his family is beginning to emerge, how a pre-teen boy with what doctors thought might be only weeks to live asked to meet a show-business superstar, what happened after the star fulfilled that wish, and the strange course one family's life took after their path became intertwined with that of Michael Jackson.”

Jamie Masada owns the Laugh Factory, a comedy showplace on L.A.'S Sunset Strip where countless big-time comedians got their big break. Every summer Masada sponsors what he calls “Comedy Camp,”  a chance for underprivileged kids to hang with some of the best-known names in comedy.

Jamie Masada: “The purpose of it is give them a little bit of confidence, give them a little bit of ability to joy.  And laughter is very healing.”

We are once again disguising his identity, but these are pictures of the boy in question at the Laugh Factory's Comedy Camp in September of 2001. A famously generous man, Jamie Masada kept in touch with the boy and his family, and when the boy fell ill, Masada was at his hospital bedside, trying to get him to eat something.

Masada: “I said, ‘Well, if you eat it, I do anything. I'll introduce you to anybody you want. Any movie star, anybody you want to meet, I introduce you to.’"

And the boy chose Michael Jackson.

Mankiewicz: “And then you had to deliver.”

Masada: “I had to deliver.”

Masada didn't know Jackson, but he called the singer's Neverland Ranch and soon after, Jackson got in contact with the boy, inviting him and his family to come visit. Over the next year, Masada says the boy's health improved, and the family made a half-dozen trips to Neverland.

Earlier this year, after the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson” aired, Masada says the boy's mother called him, and she was upset because after her son's appearance in the film, other kids were now teasing him about sleeping with Michael Jackson.

Jamie Masada says the mother never signed a release to allow filmmakers to photograph her young son,  and wanting to protect her rights, Masada sent the woman to attorney Bill Dickerman. It was about the same time that investigators began looking into Michael Jackson's relationship with the boy -- an investigation spawned by Jackson's comments on film about sleeping with children. Soon, Bill Dickerman realized he was talking to a young mother whom he describes as being wracked with worry about her three kids.

Dickerman: “It's my understanding the family has undergone a lot of threats. Threats to even her parents.  And they have been very very concerned for their safety.”

Mankiewicz: “Threats coming from?”

Dickerman: “From the Jackson camp. They've been under surveillance in the past. They've been threatened.  They've been told that they were in danger.  For their lives.”

Dickerman wrote a letter to Jackson attorney Mark Geragos demanding that what Dickerman described as daily threats and intimidation of the family stop immediately.

Mankiewicz: “All of this, threats, surveillance, and being told they were in danger, coming from the Jackson camp?”

Dickerman: “Yes. They're terrified, so they're not living where they used to live. They're not giving out their phone number. They're not talking freely on the phone. They're essentially in hiding.

Something had happened at Neverland. Attorney Bill Dickerman can't talk about what the boy and his mother said because of attorney-client privilege. Jamie Masada says the mother had called him from Neverland, saying she thought her phone calls were being monitored--and worse.

Masada: “She said she was in Neverland against her wishes. They went, they got her stuff from apartment.  They took her, they put in a storage.”

Mankiewicz: “Jackson's people took her clothing and furniture from her apartment and put it in storage?”

Masada: “Put it in storage. Yes.”

Mankiewicz: “Against her wishes?”

Masada: “That's what she said.  Then she told me that the Jackson people, they went to federal building, wherever it is, they got a passport for her and her kids to send them out of country.”

Mankiewicz: “Where were they going to send them?”

Masada: “I said, ‘Where were you going?’ She said, ‘Somewhere, I believe in South America and Brazil or somewhere.’"

Mankiewicz: “Did she say why Jackson's people wanted this to happen?”

Masada: “I ask her.  I said, ‘What's wrong?  What this is happening?’ She said something that she-- they were afraid she and the kid, they’re going to talk. Her and the kid, they both talk to the press.”

Bill Dickerman says he tried without success to persuade Jackson to return the family's passports and other personal papers. He eventually sent the family to another lawyer, who referred them to a psychologist, who then reported suspicions of child molestation to Santa Barbara authorities. 

Five months later, Jackson was arrested, and ever since, his legal team and his family have said the charges were little more than a shakedown, a carefully choreographed accusation designed to wring money out of the singer. Jackson's attorney called it all "a big lie."

Mankiewicz: “I realize that because of attorney-client privilege that you can't tell me what it is that your clients told you when they first walked in your door. But can you tell me whether you believe them? Whether they seem truthful and whether they seem like the kind of people who would make up a story?”

Dickerman: “I've been practicing law for around 25 years and I wouldn't be successful if I couldn't judge the veracity of my potential clients. Their story was complex and bizarre. But it was consistent. They don't veer from the truth as far as I can tell at all. There's no sugar coating of things.”

Mankiewicz: “So the idea that the boy was coached in his story and that his brother was coached to say I was an eyewitness, not plausible to you?”

Dickerman: “Absolutely implausible.”

Through his attorney, the boy's father said exactly the opposite, that his estranged wife was controlling her son's statements. And keep in mind that a brief investigation back in February by the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services cleared Jackson of molestation charges against this same boy.

Attorney Harvey Levin is executive producer of the television show “Celebrity Justice.”

Levin: “The defense will make hay of this. The defense will say that at the very least there's something rotten in Denmark.  Because you have this kid talking and nothing is coming out. And then four months later suddenly the kid is talking and a lot is coming out. They're going to say it just shows you can't rely on any story, therefore there's reasonable doubt.”

Prosecutors claim that much of the molestation hadn't yet occurred when that investigation was done, and they're likely to argue that children generally don't want to disclose sexual abuse because of the embarrassment. The key to the case, says Levin, could be proving the charge that Jackson gave theboy wine, over Jackson's expected denials.

Levin: “The wine could be the thing the jury latches on to and says, ‘You know, we don't believe Michael Jackson.  We believe that he did give this kid wine.  So then he's lying about that. Maybe he's lying about everything else.  And why would else would you give a sick kid wine? ‘That could be a really powerful argument for the prosecution.”

Michael Jackson's future -- perhaps his very freedom -- could turn on the testimony of a boy in failing health, a boy that his friend Jamie Masada says may well need a kidney transplant to survive, a boy whose health and credibility have already been severely tested. But attorney Bill Dickerman says it's Jackson's attorneys who should be concerned.

Mankiewicz: “If you were Michael Jackson's attorney and you were facing this boy in a courtroom, facing the accusations, would you be worried about him as a witness?”

Dickerman: “I would be worried because he's a very credible witness. He will be a credible witness. He has no reason that I can fathom to make any falsehoods and not tell the truth.”

The district attorney has agreed to return Michael Jackson's passport, so Jackson can travel to Great Britain later this month. He'll be arraigned in court January 16th.

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