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Deputies search Michael Jackson's ranch

Source: Molestation allegations spur investigation

Police arrive at the Neverland Ranch to execute a search warrant Tuesday.
Police arrive at the Neverland Ranch to execute a search warrant Tuesday.

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Los Angeles investigators search Michael Jackson's estate in connection with a criminal case. CNN's Anderson Cooper reports (November 18)
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Michael Jackson

LOS OLIVOS, California (CNN) -- Law enforcement officers responding to allegations of child molestation, according to one source with knowledge of the investigation, searched pop star Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch for several hours Tuesday.

There was no official confirmation of what prompted what one official called an "ongoing criminal investigation" or what as many as 70 officials from the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's office were searching for or may have found.

"We cannot comment on law enforcement's investigation because we do not yet know what it is about," a spokesman for the entertainer said.

But a source with knowledge of the investigation said it involved allegations of child molestation -- nearly a decade after Jackson, now 45, settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a boy who had done sleepovers at Neverland Ranch while he was 13 and accused Jackson of molesting him. No criminal charges were filed in that case.

Stuart Backerman, a spokesman for Jackson, said the singer has been in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the past 2 1/2 weeks, shooting a video for the song "One More Chance." That single is on his "Number Ones" album, a greatest-hits collection released Tuesday by Epic Records.

Later this month, a special on Jackson is due to be broadcast on CBS.

According to Backerman's statement, Jackson himself said, "I've seen lawyers who do not represent me and spokespeople who do not know me speaking for me. These characters always seem to surface with a dreadful allegation just as another project, an album, a video, is being released."

The search warrant was served at 8:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m. EST), said Chris Pappas, a spokesman for the sheriff's department. Investigators were still on the scene at 6 p.m. (9 p.m. EST), a CNN correspondent reported.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and the district attorney will hold a news conference regarding the search Wednesday at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. EST).

Giraffes wander in their paddock at the Neverland Ranch.
Giraffes wander in their paddock at the Neverland Ranch.

Attorney Larry R. Feldman, who represented the alleged victim in the 1994 child molestation lawsuit against Jackson, told CNN on Tuesday that he would "not confirm or deny" that he is representing anyone in a civil or criminal investigation pertaining to Jackson because of possible "violation of attorney-client privilege."

Brian Oxman, an attorney for the Jackson family, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that he believes the investigation stems from someone else seeking financial gain from Jackson.

"It is a case of excitement and hysteria because we have the same accusations that we had 10 years ago," he said. "It's like playing the playoffs all over again."

Johnnie Cochran, Jackson's attorney in the case 10 years ago, said it's odd the search warrant was served the day the singer's latest album was released.

"I think it's more than coincidence. I think it was planned," he said on "Larry King Live."

Cochran said he's tried to counsel Jackson "not to ever put yourself in that position" of being alone with young children.

"But that's who Michael Jackson is, he's a very, very naive person in many respects, and there's no question about that. Yeah, he does wear a bull's eye," Cochran said.

Backerman criticized what he called "the malignant horde of media hounds claiming to speak for Michael on this and many other issues.

"A rogues' gallery of hucksters and self-styled 'inside sources' have dominated the airwaves since reports of a search of Neverland broke, speculating, guessing and fabricating information about an investigation they couldn't possibly know about," he said.

Backerman said Jackson will "cooperate fully with authorities in any investigation even as it is conducted, yet again, while he is not home."

Terms of the 1994 lawsuit settlement were confidential, though the boy's attorney -- Feldman -- said at the time they were happy to resolve the matter.

Cochran said at the time that Jackson maintained his innocence and that the settlement was in no way an admission of guilt.

Criminal investigators stopped pursuing their case after the lawsuit was settled and the young boy -- by then 14 -- made clear he did not want to participate in any prosecution of the singer.

CNN correspondents Frank Buckley and Charles Feldman and producer Stan Wilson contributed to this report.

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