Jackson Jive

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After several press releases by Jackson's publicists announcing the imminent release of "What More Can I Give?" in October, suddenly there was no news about the project. Becker spent weeks in increasingly heated conversations with an attorney who worked for Neverland Valley (Schaffel's company, not Jackson's) who questioned the validity of Becker's contract, argued over what he was really owed and told him he'd get nothing if he didn't ask for substantially less, Becker says. He grew tired verbally sparring with the attorney, and in late November he turned to the White House's Kuo.

"Kuo said, 'Let me make some calls.' And then, within 20 minutes, Michael Jackson's attorney Karen Langford called me," Becker says.

Langford was helpful and courteous. But in her conversations with him, Becker says, and in e-mails she sent that Becker turned over to the Observer, she indicated that the relationship between Schaffel and Jackson had soured. (Langford did not return calls for this article.)

In his telephone conversations with Langford, Becker says, she suggested that Schaffel and Jackson's partnership had taken place outside of the "normal channels" that governed the singer's business relationships. A letter obtained from one of Jackson's attorneys claims that Jackson had ended his relationship with Schaffel after learning only last November of Schaffel's background: "As a result of that information, Mr. Jackson...terminates the business relationship with Mr. Schaffel."

Schaffel's attorney, Tom Byrne, was asked if it was possible, over the multiyear friendship between the porn director and the pop star, for Jackson not to know what his friend was doing for a living.

"I'm just not prepared to address that issue," Byrne said.

Michael Jackson got plenty of media play recently when his newly hired attorney, the ubiquitous Johnnie Cochran, held a news conference to announce that the singer was planning legal action against his record company, Sony. Claiming that his royalties had been shorted, Jackson joined a number of other high-profile stars challenging the way recording firms contract with their artists. This turned out to be a prelude to the pasty-white performer's recent racism rant against Sony, which has offered no response.

Meanwhile, Jackson has threatened other legal action that didn't make the papers. Joe Becker, after complaining about losing the $120,000 in the "What More Can I Give?" fiasco, now finds himself in the Gloved One's crosshairs.

Becker continues to carp about the way he was treated by Schaffel and Neverland Valley Entertainment, and in January he wrote to Jackson attorney Langford that the entire project had seemed like a "scam" perpetrated by Schaffel "and perhaps Jackson himself."

That e-mail recently prompted a response from another Jackson attorney, Zia Modabber, who accused Becker of trying to extort the singer with "obnoxious e-mails threatening to disseminate false and defamatory statements in the hope of extorting a payment." Modabber ominously puts Becker on notice that "we will hold you accountable to the full extent permitted by law."

Becker says he's stunned. "Naturally," he says disgustedly, "investigating the guilty parties has ended up in the prosecution of the innocent." He's mulling over legal action against Schaffel and Jackson to get his money back.

Rob Gordon, president of a company called ID Medical, says his firm is attempting to buy the song from Schaffel. He anticipates an announcement soon about the transfer of ownership, but whether the song is actually released, and when, will depend on the wishes of Jackson.

Acknowledging that it's too late to release the single as a tribute for 9/11 victims ("There isn't as much zeal now"), he says he hopes it can be used to benefit various children's organizations.

Becker says he'll believe Gordon's claims when he sees a check for the money he's owed.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega