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NAMES & FACES

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Neverland: Jackson Avoids the Hook

Michael Jackson has made a last-minute deal to refinance his Neverland Ranch, his lawyer has told the Associated Press, avoiding a public auction of the property that was scheduled for March 19.

Jackson's attorney said the pop star worked out a "confidential" agreement with Fortress Investment Group allowing him to retain ownership of the property in Los Olivos, Calif. It was set to be auctioned after Jackson went into default on the $24.5 million he owes on the 2,500-acre spread.

During its heyday in the late 1980s and 1990s, Jackson would frequently bus in ill or disadvantaged children to enjoy its zoo and amusement park rides. He has not lived on the property since he was acquitted in June 2005 of molesting a 13-year-old visitor to the estate; the zoo has since been removed and the property has fallen into disrepair.

The TMZ Tour of Washington

TMZ.com -- that bastion of paparazzi-based entertainment news -- has wised up to Washington's celebrity appeal. It has posted some choice D.C.-based video clips of actresses Vanessa Hudgens (leaving the Andre Chreky salon before performing in "Christmas in Washington" in December) and Hayden Panettiere (leaving the Icelandic Embassy on her whale activism mission in January).

Less explicable was an item posted yesterday, titled "Deli Workers Have Beef With Dems," about a telephone that was removed from a deli in the Capitol after managers decided it was being overused for personal phone calls. The post alludes to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Their baloney has a first name -- it's N-A-N-C-Y," implying that House Democrats, who oversaw a change in the deli's management after winning a majority in 2006, were to blame.

Jeff Ventura, communications director for the House's chief administrative officer, told us he's puzzled by TMZ's foray into news about the deli -- part of the House cafeteria, which is managed by New York-based Restaurant Associates. The vendor "is its own private business, and any decisions that they make managerially are their own," Ventura said. "Their choice to remodel their operation in terms of removing phone lines is entirely in their purview. It has nothing to do with any political decision -- it's a corporate one, not a partisan one."

Elsewhere in town, TMZ was sticking to what it does best: chasing after Ben Affleck, in town to film "State of Play," as he took the escalator down to claim his baggage at Reagan National Airport. In a clip posted on TMZ Thursday, the videographer asks, "Is it true you're gonna move to D.C., Ben?" No response. "There's not that many paparazzis here, only two -- wouldn't that be okay? Good schools, home of the Mayflower [Hotel]. . . . Please move to D.C., Ben! We need you here!"

Affleck, much like Pelosi, declined to give TMZ a comment.

Butler's Full-Court Birthday

Washington Wizard Caron Butler celebrated his 28th birthday in style at downtown's the Park at 14th Thursday night. After a catered sit-down dinner for 40 friends and family members, the small forward was joined by more than 1,000 people, including Carmen Electra, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Campbell, Philippe Cousteau and Kim Kardashian, who sipped Shirley Temples all night.

Noted . . .

Actress Minnie Driver, 38, is expecting her first child. The actress confirmed the news during an appearance on "The Tonight Show" after host Jay Leno joked that she had gained weight. Driver declined to name the father.

. . . And Spotted

Grammy-nominated crooner Raheem DeVaughn, R&B singer Lil' Mo, producer Chucky Thompson and D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. stopped by U-D.C. yesterday for Grammy Career Day, where 600 area high-schoolers took in performances and workshops about the music industry.

-- Marissa Newhall, from staff and wire reports

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