Timeline emerges in Jackson abuse case Video described as damage control 7/31/04 By DAWN HOBBS NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER In their first detailed account since Michael Jackson’s arrest on suspicion of child molestation, an alleged co-conspirator in the case and lawyers for two others told the News-Press their version of what happened in the weeks following the airing of a BBC video that changed the entertainer’s life forever. Ronald Konitzer, a former business associate of Mr. Jackson, said the video unleashed a public relations firestorm that threatened the pop star’s livelihood. In the video, Mr. Jackson said he shared his bed with children and is seen holding hands with the boy who would become his accuser. Mr. Konitzer detailed the steps he and others took to shield Mr. Jackson’s reputation. The production of a new video casting Mr. Jackson in a positive light, Mr. Konitzer said, was nothing more than damage control. His story contrasts sharply with the narrative prosecutors presented in a Santa Maria courtroom when they said that Mr. Jackson and his “henchmen,” “hirelings” and “thugs” conspired to abduct, imprison and coerce the boy and his family to produce a video that countered the BBC documentary. Mr. Konitzer said there was nothing conspiratorial about the actions of Mr. Jackson and his associates. “It was a very natural development of events and a normal professional move that has been taken out of context — there was no cover-up,” Mr. Konitzer said in an interview Friday. “We were working around the clock at the ranch for 10 days in a row — with my family even there — and I can tell you the one thing I remember is a bunch of kids running around and having fun. There was nothing I saw that even resembled anything near imprisonment.” Prosecutors declined to comment Friday, citing a gag order in the case. In court earlier this week, the prosecution described a conspiracy to keep the boy and his family at Mr. Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch against their will, hiding them out at hotels and arranging for a trip out of the country, so that they would appear in a video more favorable to the pop star. So far, no charges have been filed against the five alleged co-conspirators: Mr. Konitzer and Deiter Wiesner, former business associates; Vincent Amen, who had worked for Mr. Jackson’s production company; Frank Tyson, Mr. Jackson’s former personal assistant; and F. Marc Schaffel, who assisted in the production of the rebuttal video. Mr. Jackson pleaded not guilty in April to conspiracy and molestation charges. Trial has been set for Jan. 31. The allegations of a conspiracy are absurd, say Mr. Konitzer and lawyers for Mr. Amen and Mr. Tyson. Mr. Konitzer recalled that he was in a Miami hotel room with Mr. Wiesner putting the finishing touches on a business strategy to boost the entertainer’s career when they received a transcript of the BBC documentary by Martin Bashir, “Living with Michael Jackson,” that was to air in England. “Within 48 hours, the Bashir scandal hit,” Mr. Konitzer said. “We knew it could be damaging for the business and that it needed to be addressed. The first action was trying to stop it.” Lawyers were hired to block the airing, but that didn’t work. It was shown on Feb. 3. Then the video was sold to ABC for broadcast in the United States. “We had to prepare for the U.S. airing . . . It was like a hurricane was coming and we were going through the protective checklist.” More than a dozen lawyers were hired to deal with business issues. “Hiring a defense lawyer was basically to complete a 360-degree advisory board,” said Mr. Konitzer, who chose Mark Geragos two days after the documentary aired here on Feb. 6, 2003. Mr. Konitzer also hired public relations and crisis-management professionals. He was on conference calls from Miami and then Los Angeles during nonstop brainstorming about how to stave off potential negative effects of the documentary. “We were looking for the right ammunition to discredit Bashir,” he said. “Then we realized there was this other footage that hadn’t been shown.” During the months Mr. Bashir spent with Mr. Jackson, the entertainer’s own videographer was also documenting his life. The team went to Neverland to assemble “Take Two: The Interview They Wouldn’t Show You,” which aired on Fox on Feb. 20. Mr. Jackson was at the ranch, but like a CEO of a large company, he let the hired professionals do the work, Mr. Konitzer said. “Everybody worked around the clock to get it all together,” he said. “It was teamwork — not a conspiracy.” The boy who would later accuse Mr. Jackson of molestation and his mother were also at the ranch. Neither appears in the rebuttal video. “From what Vincent Amen saw, these people were certainly in no way under any type of duress,” said Mr. Amen’s attorney, Michael Bachner. “This family was not under any type of force or compulsion to remain anywhere. They freely went around to speak to whoever they wanted. They went shopping. They made phone calls. They did everything free people do.” Attorney Joseph Tacopina said his client, Mr. Tyson, also said the family was not held against their will: “If she (the mother) were being held hostage, then I guess during one of her shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive she could have told a store manager while she was buying a thousand-dollar dress.” For prosecutors to characterize Neverland as a “place designed to entice children” is ridiculous, he said. “To say Neverland was constructed to be a predator’s mansion is, quite frankly, very offensive. Thousands of children have been through there, and it’s been the greatest moments in their lives.” Both lawyers say they doubt charges will ever be filed against their clients, but if they are, Mr. Tacopina said, “the last thing Tom Sneddon wants is my client to testify at his trial. . . . They have no interest in charging these men — because if they do, we’ll answer to the charges, and then they’ll really have problems.” :nav Source: http://news.newspress.com/topsports/073104jackson.htm

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