Witness: Jackson Upset With Man's Past

The Associated Press
Monday, July 10, 2006; 9:30 PM

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Michael Jackson had no idea in November 2001 that the man he had hired to produce a recording to benefit victims of the Sept. 11 attacks had produced gay pornographic movies, the singer's former lawyer testified Monday.

Zia Modabber said he told Jackson about F. Marc Schaffel's background and met with the pop star to show him a video of Schaffel directing a gay porn scene.

"Can you describe Mr. Jackson's reaction?" asked Thomas Mundell, who is defending Jackson against Schaffel's claims that the pop star still owes him $1.6 million in unpaid loans, royalties and other debts.

"I think he didn't want to believe it was real or true," Modabber said in Superior Court. "He appeared angry, upset."

Modabber's testimony was elicited as Jackson's side sought to show that Schaffel enriched himself at the singer's expense. Modabber was permitted to testify on limited subjects after invoking attorney-client privilege.

He identified a blizzard of letters that moved between him and Schaffel's lawyer after Schaffel was notified Jackson was firing him.

Modabber told how his efforts led to a Japanese company that was negotiating with Schaffel, unbeknownst to Jackson, for the rights to the master recording of the Sept. 11 song.

"My focus was on doing what I could to get the rights to release the single," Modabber said of the song "What More Can I Give," which was being held up because Schaffel claimed rights to it.

"I got involved with trying to clean up that mess," Modabber said.

Modabber's letters continually warned that Schaffel "has no rights to exploit, distribute or in any way pledge any interest in the master recording of 'What More Can I Give.' "

But he said Schaffel went ahead and at one point collected $900,000 from the company, Music Fighters. The company received essentially nothing, he said.

In a videotaped deposition shown earlier in the trial, Jackson unequivocally stated that he was the composer of the song and that the rights belong to him.

Schaffel's lawyer, Howard King, attempted to show that Jackson intended for Schaffel to have rights to the record.

Modabber said he was aware that in 2003 Jackson began working on something with Schaffel again, and protested, saying, "We should not be doing business with Mr. Schaffel."

Asked how Jackson's people responded, Modabber said, "I was told they were handling it."

Earlier, Jackson's attorney questioned Schaffel about his rush to issue 18 backdated checks totaling $784,000 in the days after being fired by the pop star.

Schaffel testified that after he received a termination letter on Nov. 15, 2001, he wrote the checks for items including prepayment of $54,000 in rent on his home, prepayment of utilities and phone bills, and reimbursement for expenses such as camera rentals.

Schaffel acknowledged to dating a check Nov. 14 because he knew if it were dated later he would have had problems because of the firing.

© 2006 The Associated Press