Geragos Ordered Monitoring Of Accuser

By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 14, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif., May 13 -- Michael Jackson's ex-lawyer revealed Friday that he was the one who ordered close surveillance of the family now accusing the pop star of molestation because the attorney suspected "they were going to shake him down."

Testifying for the defense as Jackson's criminal trial completed its 11th week, Mark Geragos said he hired a private investigator to watch every move of the family whose 13-year-old son later accused the singer of fondling him.

After learning that the boy's mother had once won a six-figure settlement from a department store whose security guards she accused of roughing her up, Geragos said he became "gravely concerned" that Jackson was "ripe as a target" for extortion or manipulation.

Geragos served as Jackson's criminal defense lawyer during the initial phase of the current case, cutting ties with Jackson when another high-profile case -- the Scott Peterson murder trial -- placed a greater demand on his time.

His testimony went to the heart of the conspiracy charge against Jackson, who could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges of conspiracy, sexual molestation and providing alcohol to a minor.

"Mark Geragos was a very effective witness in Michael Jackson's favor," said former Santa Barbara County prosecutor Craig Smith, a trial observer. "What he's really done is distance Michael Jackson from the conspiracy. He did in fact take full responsibility for what the prosecution says is a conspiracy." Spying on the accuser's family, through Geragos's testimony, became a matter "of damage control and not criminal conspiracy," Smith said.

During the months of February and March 2003, when the alleged abuse occurred, Jackson was under fire for comments he made in a British documentary about routinely sharing his bed with young boys -- a habit prosecutors paint as predatory and that Jackson's camp portrays as innocent and loving. In that documentary, the boy who would later accuse him of abuse was shown sitting beside Jackson, holding his hand and nuzzling his shoulder.

Jackson made a video of his own rebutting the British program, and though the 13-year-old never appeared in it, his mother testified earlier that Jackson held her family virtually captive at his Neverland ranch to force their participation.

Geragos testified that he became suspicious of the family in early February of that year when a Jackson aide mentioned that the mother was encouraging her son "to refer to him as 'Daddy,' and Michael was uncomfortable with that."

It was then, Geragos said, that he asked a private investigator to "tell me where they are, tell me what they are doing, and tell me who they're meeting with."

After approximately six weeks of surveillance and investigation, Geragos said he concluded from the private eye's report that Jackson should sever all ties with the family.

"I just felt like it was a pending disaster," he said.

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