Threat detailed in dispute over Neverland trove
03/24/2009 5:00 PM, AP
David B. Caruso
When troubled pop king Michael Jackson is involved, even a yard sale can become an epic struggle.
A Hollywood auction house hired by Jackson to sell off the contents of his shuttered Neverland Ranch said it is pressing ahead with plans to put some 2,000 items on the block in April, despite the pop legend's surprise bid this month to halt the sale.
Some of the glitziest items will be on display to the public at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square this week, including one of Jackson's signature black fedoras, two of his MTV Video Music Awards, costumes he wore on tour in the 1980s and several crystal-encrusted gloves.
Jackson filed a lawsuit in early March, claiming that he had never given permission for the sale of many "priceless and irreplaceable" items.
The auction house, Julien's Auctions, fired back in court papers, saying that Jackson's representatives had been deeply and enthusiastically involved in the sale for many months, until a sudden reversal last month.
The company's president, Darren Julien, said in a sworn statement filed with a Los Angeles court that the singer's representatives even tried to intimidate him into postponing the sale.
During a Feb. 9 meeting at a fast-food restaurant in Los Angeles, he said, one of Jackson's employees warned that the auctioneers would be in danger "from Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam," if they didn't call it off.
"He told us that Dr. Tohme and Michael Jackson wanted to give the message to us 'that our lives are at stake and there will be bloodshed,'" Julien said, referring to Jackson business manager, Tohme Tohme.
Alan Gutman, a lawyer Jackson's company MJJ Productions, said Julien was "desperate to divert attention from his own misconduct" and accused him of making "scurrilous attacks."
"Unfortunately, in the course of this case, Mr. Julien has not felt constrained by the truth while trying to capture the spotlight for the auction or himself with sensationalistic and fictionalized references to supposed threats that never occurred or baseless speculation about potential sales of Neverland," Gutman told The Associated Press."
He said the consignment agreement in which Jackson purportedly gave up his right to take items back before the auction was also illegal and unenforceable under California law.
Tohme did not immediately respond to a phone message.
Julien said he didn't believe the threat, and the two sides have since agreed to let some of Jackson's property continue to travel on a publicity tour in advance of an April 3 court hearing. The auction is scheduled for April 21.
A similar preview of the items in Ireland earlier this month drew thousands of fans, and the auctioneers expect thousands more at a larger exhibition and preview in Los Angeles in a few weeks.
Julien estimated that the sale could bring in $10 million to $20 million — money that Jackson could desperately use. He reportedly has been experiencing financial problems for several years, and has not performed a major concert since 2001 — four years before his acquittal on child molestation charges. He recently announced a series of concerts in London that sold out in hours.
Jackson will get any profits from the sale, minus the auction house commissions.
In court filings, Julien's Auctions said it was first contacted by Jackson's representatives about auctioning off Neverland's trove of memorabilia last July.
Darren Julien said he found the 2,500-acre property and its zoo and amusement park rides "in shambles," but jumped at the chance to salvage decades worth of art, clothing and furniture, as well as stage props and several of Jackson's awards.
He said the items were removed over several months under the supervision of Jackson's agents, and that the singer's employees were also involved in drafting press releases, approving auction catalog covers and negotiating a deal to give 5 percent of the proceeds to charity.
"Its upsetting to me," Julien said of the lawsuit.
But he said he was still intent on giving Jackson, his client, a "first-class auction."
"There will never be another artist or celebrity like Michael Jackson," Julien said. "He has the most dedicated fans of anyone we have ever worked with."
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