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Jackson Secretly Taped on Jet

The flight company notifies media outlets after the pop star and his lawyer are videotaped while flying to surrender to authorities.

November 25, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Michael Jackson and his attorney, Mark Geragos, were surreptitiously taped on the private jet that carried the singer from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara for his surrender to face child molestation charges last week, representatives for Jackson and the jet company said Monday.

Officials for XtraJet, based in Santa Monica, confirmed that they had found two videotapes aboard one of their chartered jets and had later showed the contents to selected media outlets, seeking advice on whether the tapes could be sold. The officials said the tapes did not include an audio track.

XtraJet's president, Mark Bethea, said his company was investigating internally to find who had taped the flight. He said company officials did not know who was responsible.

Bethea said the company had talked with Fox News Network "to determine what our legal position and options were with regards to having the tape potentially released." The meeting was "confidential," he said.

The existence of the tapes was first reported Monday by Fox. The network said its personnel had viewed the tapes without audio and that the tapes showed Jackson looking "calm, often smiling or laughing" during the flight.

Jeffrey Borer, an XtraJet corporate officer, said that, once the tapes were discovered, the company had "explored the opportunity as any businessperson would."

Stuart Blackerman, Jackson's spokesman, called the taping an invasion of privacy. "How, as an executive, could you feel like flying on a plane where you might be taped?" he asked.

Borer said the company had been in contact with several television networks, asking each to sign a confidentiality agreement about the taping.

"They all expressed interest in buying the tape. We told them the tape was not available," he said. "We did not ask a price from anybody. We did not say we would take anything from anybody," he said. "We were just trying to figure out the most ethical thing to do."

"We made no decision because we had Michael's best interest in mind, as we would any of our passengers," he said.

A producer for CBS, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that network also had been approached by the company about the videotapes. CBS did not respond to the overture, the producer said. A source close to Jackson said that Jackson's entourage had been alerted to the existence of the tapes by CBS.

Neither Santa Barbara authorities nor Jackson and his attorney were aware of the videotapes until Monday, according to a second source close to Jackson. Geragos was alerted by reporters on Monday and then made contact with the jet's operator, the source said.

Bethea confirmed that company officials had spoken with Geragos and said they had assured him that no audio tapes of the flight had been found.

Officials for the FBI in Los Angeles said no investigation was underway in the case. Federal law makes electronic surveillance a crime unless at least one party to the transaction consents to its taping.

XtraJet officials said the company operates seven aircraft and has flown Jackson as a client for several years. "We've been flying Michael for a few years and at no time has he acted irrationally, agitated or tried to interfere with the flight crew's duties," Borer said, rebutting what he described as reports that Jackson had acted erratically.

"We have never been asked to change our destination from the place we were originally scheduled to arrive. He's always been an ideal passenger and very easy to take care of."

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Times staff writer Greg Krikorian contributed to this report.

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