Was MJ Framed? The Untold Story – GQ Magazine 1994

CONTINUATION (PT. 2)

On July 9, 1993, Dave Schwartz and June Chandler Schwartz played the taped conversation for Pellicano. “After listening to the tape for ten minutes, I knew it was about extortion,” says Pellicano.

That same day, he drove to Jackson’s Century City condominium, where Chandler’s son and the boy’s half-sister were visiting. Without Jackson there, Pellicano “made eye contact” with the boy and asked him, he says, “very pointed questions”: “Has Michael ever touched you? Have you ever seen him naked in bed?”

The answer to all the questions was no. The boy repeatedly denied that anything bad had happened. On July 11, after Jackson had declined to meet with Chandler, the boy’s father and Rothman went ahead with another part of the plan—they needed to get custody of the boy.

Chandler asked his ex-wife to let the youth stay with him for a “one-week visitation period.” As Bert Fields later said in an affidavit to the court, June Chandler Schwartz allowed the boy to go based on Rothman’s assurance to Fields that her son would come back to her after the specified time, never guessing that Rothman’s word would be worthless and that Chandler would not return their son.

Wylie Aitken, Rothman’s attorney, claims that “at the time [Rothman] gave his word, it was his intention to have the boy returned.” However, once “he learned that the boy would be whisked out of the country [to go on tour with Jackson], I don’t think Mr. Rothman had any other choice.”

But the chronology clearly indicates that Chandler had learned in June, at the graduation, that the boy’s mother planned to take her son on the tour. The taped telephone conversation made in early July, before Chandler took custody of his son, also seems to verify that Chandler and Rothman had no intention of abiding by the visitation agreement.

“They [the boy and his mother] don’t know it yet,” Chandler told Schwartz, “but they aren’t going anywhere.”

On July 12, one day after Chandler took control of his son, he had his ex-wife sign a document prepared by Rothman that prevented her from taking the youth out of Los Angeles County. This meant the boy would be unable to accompany Jackson on the tour. His mother told the court she signed the document under duress.

Chandler, she said in an affidavit, had threatened that “I would not have [the boy] returned to me.” A bitter custody battle ensued, making even murkier any charges Chandler made about wrong-doing on Jackson’s part. (As of this August [1994], the boy was still living with Chandler.)

It was during the first few weeks after Chandler took control of his son—who was now isolated from his friends, mother and stepfather—that the boy’s allegations began to take shape.

At the same time, Rothman, seeking an expert’s opinion to help establish the allegations against Jackson, called Dr. Mathis Abrams, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist. Over the telephone, Rothman presented Abrams with a hypothetical situation.

In reply and without having met either Chandler or his son, Abrams on July 15 sent Rothman a two-page letter in which he stated that “reasonable suspicion would exist that sexual abuse may have occurred.” Importantly, he also stated that if this were a real and not a hypothetical case, he would be required by law to report the matter to the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

According to a July 27 entry in the diary kept by Rothman’s former colleague, it’s clear that Rothman was guiding Chandler in the plan. “Rothman wrote letter to Chandler advising him how to report child abuse without liability to parent,” the entry reads.

At this point, there still had been made no demands or formal accusations, only veiled assertions that had become intertwined with a fierce custody battle. On August 4, 1993, however, things became very clear. Chandler and his son met with Jackson and Pellicano in a suite at the Westwood Marquis Hotel.

On seeing Jackson, says Pellicano, Chandler gave the singer an affectionate hug (a gesture, some say, that would seem to belie the dentist’s suspicions that Jackson had molested his son), then reached into his pocket, pulled out Abrams’s letter and began reading passages from it.

When Chandler got to the parts about child molestation, the boy, says Pellicano, put his head down and then looked up at Jackson with a surprised expression, as if to say “I didn’t say that.”

As the meeting broke up, Chandler pointed his finger at Jackson, says Pellicano, and warned “I’m going to ruin you.”

At a meeting with Pellicano in Rothman’s office later that evening, Chandler and Rothman made their demand – $20 million.

On August 13, there was another meeting in Rothman’s office. Pellicano came back with a counteroffer—a $350,000 screenwriting deal. Pellicano says he made the offer as a way to resolve the custody dispute and give Chandler an opportunity to spend more time with his son by working on a screenplay together. Chandler rejected the offer.

Rothman made a counterdemand—a deal for three screenplays or nothing—which was spurned. In the diary of Rothman’s ex-colleague, an August 24 entry reveals Chandler’s disappointment: “I almost had a $20 million deal,” he was overheard telling Rothman.

Before Chandler took control of his son, the only one making allegations against Jackson was Chandler himself—the boy had never accused the singer of any wrongdoing. That changed one day in Chandler’s Beverly Hills dental office.

In the presence of Chandler and Mark Torbiner, a dental anesthesiologist, the boy was administered the controversial drug sodium Amytal—which some mistakenly believe is a truth serum. And it was after this session that the boy first made his charges against Jackson.

A newsman at KCBS-TV, in L.A., reported on May 3 of this year that Chandler had used the drug on his son, but the dentist claimed he did so only to pull his son’s tooth and that while under the drug’s influence, the boy came out with allegations. Asked for this article about his use of the drug on the boy, Torbiner replied: “If I used it, it was for dental purposes.”

Given the facts about sodium Amytal and a recent landmark case that involved the drug, the boy’s allegations, say several medical experts, must be viewed as unreliable, if not highly questionable.

“It’s a psychiatric medication that cannot be relied on to produce fact,” says Dr. Resnick, the Cleveland psychiatrist. “People are very suggestible under it. People will say things under sodium Amytal that are blatantly untrue.”

Sodium Amytal is a barbiturate, an invasive drug that puts people in a hypnotic state when it’s injected intravenously. Primarily administered for the treatment of amnesia, it first came into use during World War II, on soldiers traumatized—some into catatonic states—by the horrors of war.

Scientific studies done in 1952 debunked the drug as a truth serum and instead demonstrated its risks: False memories can be easily implanted in those under its influence. “It is quite possible to implant an idea through the mere asking of a question,” says Resnick.

But its effects are apparently even more insidious: “The idea can become their memory, and studies have shown that even when you tell them the truth, they will swear on a stack of Bibles that it happened,” says Resnick.

Recently, the reliability of the drug became an issue in a high-profile trial in Napa County, California. After undergoing numerous therapy sessions, at least one of which included the use of sodium Amytal, 20-year-old Holly Ramona accused her father of molesting her as a child.

Gary Ramona vehemently denied the charge and sued his daughter’s therapist and the psychiatrist who had administered the drug. This past May, jurors sided with Gary Ramona, believing that the therapist and the psychiatrist may have reinforced memories that were false.

Gary Ramona’s was the first successful legal challenge to the so-called “repressed memory phenomenon” that has produced thousands of sexual-abuse allegations over the past decade.

As for Chandler’s story about using the drug to sedate his son during a tooth extraction, that too seems dubious, in light of the drug’s customary use. “It’s absolutely a psychiatric drug,” says Dr. Kenneth Gottlieb, a San Francisco psychiatrist who has administeredsodium Amytal to amnesia patients.

Dr. John Yagiela, the coordinator of the anesthesia and pain control department of UCLA’s school of dentistry, adds, “It’s unusual for it to be used [for pulling a tooth]. It makes no sense when better, safer alternatives are available. It would not be my choice.”

Because of sodium Amytal’s potential side effects, some doctors will administer it only in a hospital. “I would never want to use a drug that tampers with a person’s unconscious unless there was no other drug available,” says Gottlieb.“And I would not use it without resuscitating equipment, in case of allergic reaction, and only with an M.D. anesthesiologist present.”

Chandler, it seems, did not follow these guidelines. He had the procedure performed on his son in his office, and he relied on the dental anesthesiologist Mark Torbiner for expertise. (It was Torbiner who’d introduced Chandler and Rothman in 1991, when Rothman needed dental work.)

The nature of Torbiner’s practice appears to have made it highly successful. “He boasts that he has $100 a month overhead and $40,000 a month income,” says Nylla Jones, a former patient of his.

Torbiner doesn’t have an office for seeing patients; rather, he travels to various dental offices around the city, where he administers anesthesia during procedures.

This magazine has learned that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is probing another aspect of Torbiner’s business practices: He makes housecalls to administer drugs—mostly morphine and Demerol—not only postoperatively to his dental patients but also, it seems, to those suffering pain whose source has nothing to do with dental work.

He arrives at the homes of his clients—some of them celebrities—carrying a kind of fishing-tackle box that contains drugs and syringes. At one time, the license plate on his Jaguar read “SLPYDOC.”

According to Jones, Torbiner charges $350 for a basic ten-to-twenty-minute visit. In what Jones describes as standard practice, when it’s unclear how long Torbiner will need to stay, the client, anticipating the stupor that will soon set in, leaves a blank check for Torbiner to fill in with the appropriate amount.

Torbiner wasn’t always successful. In 1989, he got caught in a lie and was asked to resign from UCLA, where he was an assistant professor at the school of dentistry. Torbiner had asked to take a half-day off so he could observe a religious holiday but was later found to have worked at a dental office instead.

A check of Torbiner’s credentials with the Board of Dental Examiners indicates that he is restricted by law to administering drugs solely for dental-related procedures. But there is clear evidence that he has not abided by those restrictions. In fact, on at least eight occasions, Torbiner has given a general anesthetic to Barry Rothman, during hair-transplant procedures.

Though normally a local anesthetic would be injected into the scalp, “Barry is so afraid of the pain,” says Dr. James De Yarman, the San Diego physician who performed Rothman’s transplants, “that [he] wanted to be put out completely.” De Yarman said he was “amazed” to learn that Torbiner is a dentist, having assumed all along that he was an M.D.

In another instance, Torbiner came to the home of Nylla Jones, she says, and injected her with Demerol to help dull the pain that followed her appendectomy.

On August 16, three days after Chandler and Rothman rejected the $350,000 script deal, the situation came to a head. On behalf of June Chandler Schwartz, Michael Freeman notified Rothman that he would be filing papers early the next morning that would force Chandler to turn over the boy.

Reacting quickly, Chandler took his son to Mathis Abrams, the psychiatrist who’d provided Rothman with his assessment of the hypothetical child-abuse situation. During a three-hour session, the boy alleged that Jackson had engaged in a sexual relationship with him.

He talked of masturbation, kissing, fondling of nipples and oral sex. There was, however, no mention of actual penetration, which might have been verified by a medical exam, thus providing corroborating evidence.

The next step was inevitable. Abrams, who is required by law to report any such accusation to authorities, called a social worker at the Department of Children’s Services, who in turn contacted the police. The full-scale investigation of Michael Jackson was about to begin.

Five days after Abrams called the authorities, the media got wind of the investigation. On Sunday morning, August 22, Don Ray, a free-lance reporter in Burbank, was asleep when his phone rang.

The caller, one of his tipsters, said that warrants had been issued to search Jackson’s ranch and condominium. Ray sold the story to L.A.’s KNBC-TV, which broke the news at 4 P.M. the following day.

After that, Ray “watched this story go away like a freight train,” he says. Within twenty-four hours, Jackson was the lead story on seventy-three TV news broadcasts in the Los Angeles area alone and was on the front page of every British newspaper.

The story of Michael Jackson and the 13-year-old boy became a frenzy of hype and unsubstantiated rumor, with the line between tabloid and mainstream media virtually eliminated.

The extent of the allegations against Jackson wasn’t known until August 25. A person inside the DCS illegally leaked a copy of the abuse report to Diane Dimond of Hard Copy. Within hours, the L.A. office of a British news service also got the report and began selling copies to any reporter willing to pay $750. The following day, the world knew about the graphic details in the leaked report.

“While laying next to each other in bed, Mr. Jackson put his hand under [the child’s] shorts,” the social worker had written. From there, the coverage soon demonstrated that anything about Jackson would be fair game.

“Competition among news organizations became so fierce,” says KNBC reporter Conan Nolan, that “stories weren’t being checked out. It was very unfortunate.” The National Enquirer put twenty reporters and editors on the story.

One team knocked on 500 doors in Brentwood trying to find Evan Chandler and his son. Using property records, they finally did, catching up with Chandler in his black Mercedes. “He was not a happy man. But I was,” said Andy O’Brien, a tabloid photographer.

Next came the accusers—Jackson’s former employees. First, Stella and Philippe Lemarque, Jackson’ ex-housekeepers, tried to sell their story to the tabloids with the help of broker Paul Barresi, a former porn star.

They asked for as much as half a million dollars but wound up selling an interview to The Globe of Britain for $15,000. The Quindoys, a Filipino couple who had worked at Neverland, followed. When their asking price was $100,000, they said ” ‘the hand was outside the kid’s pants,’ ”

Barresi told a producer of Frontline, a PBS program. “As soon as their price went up to $500,000, the hand went inside the pants. So come on.” The L.A. district attorney’s office eventually concluded that both couples were useless as witnesses.

Next came the bodyguards. Purporting to take the journalistic high road, Hard Copy’s Diane Dimond told Frontline in early November of last year that her program was “pristinely clean on this.

We paid no money for this story at all.” But two weeks later, as a Hard Copy contract reveals, the show was negotiating a $100,000 payment to five former Jackson security guards who were planning to file a $10 million lawsuit alleging wrongful termination of their jobs.

On December 1, with the deal in place, two of the guards appeared on the program; they had been fired, Dimond told viewers, because “they knew too much about Michael Jackson’s strange relationship with young boys.”

In reality, as their depositions under oath three months later reveal, it was clear they had never actually seen Jackson do anything improper with Chandler’s son or any other child:

“So you don’t know anything about Mr. Jackson and [the boy], do you?” one of Jackson’s attorneys asked former security guard Morris Williams under oath.

“All I know is from the sworn documents that other people have sworn to.”

“But other than what someone else may have said, you have no firsthand knowledge about Mr. Jackson and [the boy], do you?”

“That’s correct.”

“Have you spoken to a child who has ever told you that Mr. Jackson did anything improper with the child?”

“No.”

When asked by Jackson’s attorney where he had gotten his impressions, Williams replied: “Just what I’ve been hearing in the media and what I’ve experienced with my own eyes.”

“Okay. That’s the point. You experienced nothing with your own eyes, did you?”

“That’s right, nothing.”

(The guards’ lawsuit, filed in March 1994, was still pending as this article went to press.)

[NOTE: The case was thrown out of court in July 1995.]

Next came the maid. On December 15, Hard Copy presented “The Bedroom Maid’s Painful Secret.” Blanca Francia told Dimond and other reporters that she had seen a naked Jackson taking showers and Jacuzzi baths with young boys.

She also told Dimond that she had witnessed her own son in compromising positions with Jackson—an allegation that the grand juries apparently never found credible.

A copy of Francia’s sworn testimony reveals that Hard Copy paid her $20,000, and had Dimond checked out the woman’s claims, she would have found them to be false.

Under deposition by a Jackson attorney, Francia admitted she had never actually see Jackson shower with anyone nor had she seen him naked with boys in his Jacuzzi. They always had their swimming trunks on, she acknowledged.

The coverage, says Michael Levine, a Jackson press representative, “followed a proctologist’s view of the world. Hard Copy was loathsome. The vicious and vile treatment of this man in the media was for selfish reasons. [Even] if you have never bought a Michael Jackson record in your life, you should be very concerned. Society is built on very few pillars. One of them is truth. When you abandon that, it’s a slippery slope.”

The investigation of Jackson, which by October 1993 would grow to involve at least twelve detectives from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, was instigated in part by the perceptions of one psychiatrist, Mathis Abrams, who had no particular expertise in child sexual abuse.

Abrams, the DCS caseworker’s report noted, “feels the child is telling the truth.” In an era of widespread and often false claims of child molestation, police and prosecutors have come to give great weight to the testimony of psychiatrists, therapists and social workers.

Police seized Jackson’s telephone books during the raid on his residences in August and questioned close to thirty children and their families. Some, such as Brett Barnes and Wade Robson, said they had shared Jackson’s bed, but like all the others, they gave the same response—Jackson had done nothing wrong.

“The evidence was very good for us,” says an attorney who worked on Jackson’s defense. “The other side had nothing but a big mouth.”

Despite the scant evidence supporting their belief that Jackson was guilty, the police stepped up their efforts. Two officers flew to the Philippines to try to nail down the Quindoys’ “hand in the pants” story, but apparently decided it lacked credibility.

The police also employed aggressive investigative techniques—including allegedly telling lies—to push the children into making accusations against Jackson.

According to several parents who complained to Bert Fields, officers told them unequivocally that their children had been molested, even though the children denied to their parents that anything bad had happened.

The police, Fields complained in a letter to Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams, “have also frightened youngsters with outrageous lies, such as ‘We have nude photos of you.’ There are, of course, no such photos.”

One officer, Federico Sicard, told attorney Michael Freeman that he had lied to the children he’d interviewed and told them that he himself had been molested as a child, says Freeman. Sicard did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.

All along, June Chandler Schwartz rejected the charges Chandler was making against Jackson—until a meeting with police in late August 1993. Officers Sicard and Rosibel Ferrufino made a statement that began to change her mind.

“[The officers] admitted they only had one boy,” says Freeman, who attended the meeting, “but they said, ‘We’re convinced Michael Jackson molested this boy because he fits the classic profile of a pedophile perfectly.’ ”

“There’s no such thing as a classic profile. They made a completely foolish and illogical error,” says Dr. Ralph Underwager, a Minneapolis psychiatrist who has treated pedophiles and victims of incest since 1953. Jackson, he believes, “got nailed” because of “misconceptions like these that have been allowed to parade as fact in an era of hysteria.”

In truth, as a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study shows, many child-abuse allegations—48 percent of those filed in 1990 —proved to be unfounded.

“It was just a matter of time before someone like Jackson became a target,” says Phillip Resnick. “He’s rich, bizarre, hangs around with kids and there is a fragility to him. The atmosphere is such that an accusation must mean it happened.”

The seeds of settlement were already being sown as the police investigation continued in both counties through the fall of 1993. And a behind-the-scenes battle among Jackson’s lawyers for control of the case, which would ultimately alter the course the defense would take, had begun.

By then, June Chandler Schwartz and Dave Schwartz had united with Evan Chandler against Jackson. The boy’s mother, say several sources, feared what Chandler and Rothman might do if she didn’t side with them.

She worried that they would try to advance a charge against her of parental neglect for allowing her son to have sleepovers with Jackson.

Her attorney, Michael Freeman, in turn, resigned in disgust, saying later that “the whole thing was such a mess. I felt uncomfortable with Evan. He isn’t a genuine person, and I sensed he wasn’t playing things straight.”

Over the months, lawyers for both sides were retained, demoted and ousted as they feuded over the best strategy to take. Rothman ceased being Chandler’s lawyer in late August, when the Jackson camp filed extortion charges against the two.

Both then hired high-priced criminal defense attorneys to represent them.. (Rothman retained Robert Shapiro, now O.J. Simpson’s chief lawyer.)

According to the diary kept by Rothman’s former colleague, on August 26, before the extortion charges were filed, Chandler was heard to say “It’s my ass that’s on the line and in danger of going to prison.”

The investigation into the extortion charges was superficial because, says a source, “the police never took it that seriously. But a whole lot more could have been done.”

For example, as they had done with Jackson, the police could have sought warrants to search the homes and offices of Rothman and Chandler. And when both men, through their attorneys, declined to be interviewed by police, a grand jury could have been convened.