Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Michael Jackson facing Neverland problems


The entrance to Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch home in Santa Ynez, California, is seen in this file photo. The state barred workers from working at Neverland on Thursday and fined the singer US$69,000 because the estate's workers compensation insurance policy had lapsed.


State regulators say they will go after Michael Jackson in court if he fails to meet a Tuesday deadline to pay US$100,000 in penalties and US$306,000 in back pay owed to nearly 50 workers at his Neverland Ranch.

"If they don't comply then we file suit to get a judgment," Dean Fryer, a spokesman for the California Department of Industrial Relations, said.

The ranch operators have until the close of business on Tuesday to pay up.

"It's pretty clear that they owe this money," he said on Friday. "We've got all these wage claims. People are telling me they haven't been paid from Dec. 19."

Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said the entertainer was on a plane from London to Bahrain most of the day on Thursday after traveling in Europe.

She said he learned of the situation at Neverland when he arrived in Bahrain late in the day, but she had been unable to discuss it with him because of the time difference.

"He's been made aware," Bain said. "I'm sure this will be resolved."

Jackson, who has been living in Bahrain since being acquitted of child molestation charges last year, has been rumored for some time to be in financial trouble.

Forensic accountant John Duross O'Bryan testified at Jackson's trial that the singer had an "ongoing cash crisis" and was spending US$20 million to US$30 million more per year than he earned.

There have been rumors -- repeatedly denied -- that Jackson might sell some of his assets, which include the ranch, several homes and a stake in the Beatles record catalog.

Thomas Mesereau Jr, a former Jackson lawyer, said he had been "in touch with people involved with Michael" and "I'm not aware of any plans to sell the ranch."

On Thursday the state barred scores of Jackson employees from working at Neverland after learning that workers compensation coverage had lapsed in January.

Some workers who live on the estate can remain, but no work can be done until the ranch either obtains coverage or hires an outside company that has it, Fryer said.

The state gave ranch operators five days to appeal the decision and 30 days to appeal a US$69,000 fine -- US$1,000 for each worker -- but in the meantime all work must stop, Fryer said.

An accounting firm that handles ranch finances for Jackson "assured us that they are trying to comply" and had informed employees that they had to stop work, Fryer said.

"To our knowledge at this point they are complying and we will follow up to ensure they are complying," he said.

The ranch includes several amusement park rides and has been home over the years to elephants, giraffes, snakes, orangutans, tigers and a crocodile.

Fryer said that local animal welfare agencies were notified of the shutdown so they could make arrangements to care for and feed the animals.

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