Santa Barbara County, California authorities have issued a warrant for Michael Jackson's arrest on multiple charges of "lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under fourteen." Each of the charges carries a sentence of three to eight years in prison, and Jackson's bail has been set at $3 million.
The forty-five-year-old singer was ordered to surrender his passport and report to authorities. The charges came one day after more than seventy sheriff's deputies and district attorney's office investigators swarmed Jackson's Neverland Ranch with search warrants.
Jackson spokesperson Stuart Backerman released a statement Wednesday afternoon. "The outrageous allegations against Michael Jackson are false," it reads. "Michael would never harm a child in any way. These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom." Backerman added that Jackson had made arrangements to return to Santa Barbara immediately to surrender to police.
At a Wednesday morning press conference, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson said that Jackson, who was in Las Vegas at the time of the search, would have been arrested had he been present. Anderson confirmed that the Neverland search coincided with two others, also in Southern California, but would not comment on what authorities were looking for.
The search began at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning at the pop singer's sprawling 2,600-acre estate and concluded just after 11 p.m. Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon said the search took so long and required the massive team of investigators because of the size of Jackson's ranch and the mandate to videotape every building on the premises.
Neither official would comment on what, if any, evidence was removed from the scenes, but said authorities were looking for "items that would corroborate the victims' statements." Sneddon would not give any information about the alleged victim, but said that Jackson's accuser -- described in media reports as a twelve-year-old Los Angeles native -- is willing to testify.
In 1993, a fourteen-year-old boy alleged that Jackson had improper sexual contact with him, but the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount said to be in the millions. No charges were filed, and Jackson denied any wrongdoing. Sneddon said that following the failed prosecution of that case, the legislature changed the law, and now a child victim can be forced to testify in a molestation proceeding.
In the '93 case, civil charges were filed against Jackson and they wrapped before the investigation could be completed, at which point the victim refused to cooperate with authorities. The current alleged victim has not filed a civil case and authorities do not expect one to be filed.
The Neverland raid came on the same day that Jackson's Number Ones greatest hits album was released. The collection features the new song "One More Chance," written by R. Kelly. A Jackson TV special is scheduled to air on CBS on November 26th and he has been in Las Vegas filming the elaborate "One More Chance" video, slated to debut during the program.
According to Sneddon, more searches may be conducted in the near future, and once Jackson turns himself in, he will be ordered to appear in court to face the charges within thirty to forty-five days.
Jackson's three young children are still believed to be with the singer. Sneddon said that any action to remove them from the household will be made by Child Protective Services. At Jackson's bail hearing, the judge could forbid him from having any contact with underage children for the duration of the proceedings.
Jackson has hired Mark Geragos, the attorney for alleged killer Scott Peterson, as a legal consultant.