Fifth Man

05.12.14

Exclusive: Michael Jackson Hit With New Sex Abuse Claim

The star of a 1987 Pepsi ad featuring Michael Jackson has joined a suit against the singer’s estate, alleging that Jackson sexually abused him for years.

And then there were five. The Daily Beast has learned that another man has stepped forward to accuse Michael Jackson of sexually victimizing him.

The latest sexual assault complaint, filed in court last Friday, remains sealed, but two sources close to the case revealed that the man involved is James Safechuck, who appeared in a Pepsi ad featuring Jackson in 1987 and proceeded to have a close association with the singer for several years. Safechuck was mentioned as a potential abuse victim by employees of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in court documents filed ahead of the star’s 2005 criminal trial, but he always denied that Jackson had molested him. Now, the sources said, Safechuck’s complaint claims that Jackson groomed him and molested him for several years beginning when he was 10 years old.

Safechuck added his name to a suit originally filed by Wade Robson in May 2013. Robson, an Australian who is now 31, testified in Jackson’s defense at the singer’s 2005 trial, where the pop icon was found not guilty of child molestation and other charges. But later, Robson changed his mind. Last year, he alleged in a civil suit against Jackson’s estate that the singer had forced him to perform sex acts. Both Robson, who was once a top Hollywood choreographer, and Safechuck, 36, are represented by the L.A. law firm of Gradstein & Marzano. Partners in that firm declined to comment on their latest filing.

“It’s the same type of sex abuse claim as Wade’s,” a source close to Safechuck said. “Only with a different set of facts … and dates. According to the source, Safechuck alleges that he “was molested from the age of 10 to about 14 or 15.”

Asked why Safechuck, now a married computer programmer with two young children living in Southern California, would come forward with an allegation after all these years, one source said he was motivated by Robson’s very public announcement last year that he had come to the realization that Jackson was a “child molester and pedophile.”

“Once you start having children and you see what it’s all about … your perspective on life changes,” the source said, requesting anonymity because they lacked authority to speak on the record. According to the source closest to Safechuck, he now believes that “some of his current issues” stem from his long-ago relationship with Jackson.

(Jackson's attorney, Howard Weitzman, did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this story).

Like Robson, Safechuck had long denied rumors that he had been sexually victimized by the former superstar. It was only after seeking intensive therapy, according to one source, that he was able to begin to deal with his undisclosed issues. 

“It is very common for males who are sexually abused to delay disclosure for a long time,” according to Christopher Anderson, the executive director of MaleSurvivor.org. “In fact, research shows that the average delay in disclosure for men who have been sexually assaulted is 20 years.” Anderson says some of the men who come to his self-help organization have waited over 60 years to reveal their abuse.

Safechuck was 10 years old when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial designed to promote Michael Jackson’s first solo world tour, the Bad Tour. It was 1987, and the tiny, smiling blond boy seemed perfectly suited to play the part of a mischievous Jackson fan that sneaks into the star’s dressing room to catch a glimpse of his idol.

Watch: James Safechuck’s 1987 Pepsi Ad

Video screenshot

By early 1988, little Jimmy Safechuck seemed constantly at Jackson’s side. In February, the odd couple was photographed at the Kahala Hilton Hotel in Hawaii, where they attended a Pepsi conference. (The beverage maker was the sponsor of Jackson’s concert tour.) In March, they were in New York and joined by Liza Minnelli to catch the opening performance of The Phantom of the Opera. There was also the obligatory shopping spree at the F.A.O. Schwarz toy store across from Central Park. In July, Safechuck traveled with Jackson to England for an awards ceremony for the wildly popular entertainer and a string of Bad Tour concerts at Wembley Stadium. In June, Jimmy and the 30-year-old Jackson were in Paris for more concert appearances. And, it was Jimmy who appeared at the final Bad Tour concert in Los Angeles, dressed exactly like his much older friend and performing the Moonwalk dance right alongside Jackson.

Sources said that in the sealed complaint, Safechuck claims “childhood sexual abuse” by Jackson and gives a detailed account of how the boy and man first met, their early correspondence and the various “grooming” steps Jackson is alleged to have taken as he inserted himself into young Safechuck’s life.

In court documents filed by the prosecution ahead of Jackson’s 2005 criminal trial, various employees from Jackson’s Neverland Ranch were quoted saying Safechuck was a frequent and familiar guest. Several were set to testify that they saw or suspected Jackson was molesting young Safechuck. An estate manager was quoted in one court submission saying that he saw Jackson standing in the Jacuzzi with his hands “down the front of Jimmy’s underpants and was manipulating the boy’s genitalia.” In the same document filed by the prosecution, a trusted master bedroom maid said she saw the pair in bed together, nude from the waist up, both inside the main house and on a bed overlooking the Neverland theater screen. But since Safechuck had never made a claim of sexual abuse, the judge ruled the jury could not hear any of those prosecution claims.

In late 1993, after I broke the original story that a young boy named Jordie Chandler had accused Jackson of molesting him, La Toya Jackson held a news conference in Tel Aviv and said she could no longer be a “silent collaborator” to her brother’s “crimes against innocent children.”

“This has been going on since 1981,” she said into the camera, “And it’s not just one child.” Later, La Toya would claim she made that statement under threat of violence from her abusive husband, Jack Gordon.

In 1994, La Toya also told the TV interviewer Geraldo Rivera a story of how she and her mother once found a canceled check she said Michael had written for $1 million, made payable to the father of one of Michael’s most frequent boy pals. She did not name the child.

“The father, supposedly, is a garbage collector,” La Toya said. Jimmy Safechuck’s father was—and still is—employed in the rubbish disposal business. Howard Weitzman, an attorney for the Jackson Estate, has called Robson’s lawsuit a money-grab, “transparent … outrageous and sad.” Dispensing money to make problems go away was not an unusual thing for Michael Jackson back in his heyday. My book on the case revealed the specifics of the monetary settlement hammered out for Jordie Chandler, complainant #1. His divorced parents agreed to a package of more than $20 million (including payment of all their legal fees) in exchange for their perpetual silence. No complaining witness, no trial.

Related: British Paper: Jackson Spent $34 Million to Silence Alleged Victims

The complaint details how Safechuck and Jackson met, and the “grooming” steps Jackson allegedly took to lay the groundwork for sexual contact.

Complainant #2 was Jason Francia, the young son of one of Jackson’s longtime maids, Blanca Francia. She told me in a 1993 interview that Jackson often urged her to bring her 7-year-old boy to work with her. After catching them in a darkened room nestled inside a sleeping bag, Francia said her son admitted Jackson had told him to keep something secret: three $100 bills the singer had stuffed in young Jason’s pocket. Francia eventually quit the job because her son had become angry and depressed and, as she put it, she couldn’t take the procession of Jackson’s little “special [boy] friends” anymore. After the Chandler allegations hit Jackson lawyers doubled-back and Francia was quietly offered a $2 million dollar settlement to keep mum. Again, no complaining witness, no trial.

In 2003, a young cancer survivor named Gavin Arvizo became complainant #3. He alleged Jackson had shown him porn, fed him “Jesus Juice” (alcohol) in a Diet Coke can and sexually molested him during sleepovers inside the master bedroom suite at Neverland. Those charges resulted in Jackson’s 2005 criminal trial, at which he was acquitted of 14 charges. Jackson’s defense team vilified the Arvizo family repeatedly, calling them “grifters and liars” who were out for Jackson’s money. Defense attorney Tom Mesereau proudly spoke about the strength of his lead-off witness, Wade Robson. Back in 2005, Robson had energetically defended Jackson and swore that when he was a child the defendant had never touched him inappropriately.  

Related: Gavin Arvizo’s New Beginning: Jackson Abuse Accuser Gets Married at 24

Today, as complainant #4, Robson says he was brainwashed by Jackson to keep their ugly secret. During his Today show appearance in May 2013 Robson said Jackson had “performed sexual acts on me and forced me to perform sexual acts on him,” beginning when he was 7 years old and lasting until he was 14. He says it wasn’t until he had his own child that he came to understand what Jackson did to him was a crime. Robson’s lawsuit now claims that he suffered two nervous breakdowns in recent years which forced him to turn down lucrative choreography jobs. Although he has worked with top musical celebrities—Britany Spears,*NSYNC, Usher and Pink to name a few—Robson says he remains unable to work.

Now that a fifth man has come forward claiming he was victimized is Jackson’s former prosecutor, Ron Zonen, surprised?

“Not at all,” he said during a telephone call. “I don’t think we’re done yet.” Zonen, now retired, mentioned the years-long Jackson investigation conducted by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office and added, “All these people, these suspected victims, are now in their early 30s, all young adults and they are coming to grips with what happened to them.”