LOS ANGELES - Pop superstar Michael Jackson's attorney says molestation accusations levied against the entertainer are motivated by money, even as doubts about the credibility of the boy's family began to emerge.
The family of the child has already been involved in two previous cases that involved abuse allegations: a lawsuit in which the family said they were battered by mall security guards, and a divorce fight in which the father pleaded no contest to spousal abuse and child cruelty.
In November 2001, J.C. Penney Co. paid the boy's family $137,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging security guards beat the boy, his mother and his brother in a parking lot after the boy left the store carrying clothes that hadn't been paid for, court records show.
The mother also contended that she was sexually assaulted by one of the guards during the 1998 confrontation.
A month before the settlement, the boy's mother had filed for divorce, beginning a bitter fight that would include criminal charges of abuse. The father's attorney, Russell Halpern, said the mother had lied about the abuse and had a "Svengali-like" ability to make her children repeat her lies.
Halpern said the father once showed him a script his wife had allegedly written for their children to use when they were questioned in a civil deposition.
"She wrote out all their testimony. I actually saw the script," Halpern said Tuesday. "I remember my client showing me, bringing the paperwork to me."
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse. The child's mother has an unlisted number and could not be located for comment. J.C. Penney lawyers did not return a call seeking comment.
The family's past legal cases could be critical in the current molestation case, if Jackson attorneys can show the mother or the accuser lacks credibility, said Leonard Levine, a defense attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases.
"It sounds like music to a defense attorney's ears - that there have been other cases where they have sued and there is at least an argument that the allegations are similar to the ones here," Levine said, referring to the claims of physical abuse.
Jackson's spokesman, Stuart Backerman, declined comment about the past lawsuits involving the accuser's family. The Santa Barbara County district attorney's office declined to comment Tuesday.
In 2002, the boy's father was charged with four counts of child cruelty, and one count each of injuring a child, making a threat and false imprisonment. He pleaded no contest to one count of child cruelty but it was unclear from court records which of his children was involved. The other charges were dismissed.
The father also pleaded no contest to spousal abuse in 2001.
Meanwhile, Jackson's attorney on Tuesday angrily vowed to come down hard on anyone who attacks the singer and charged that molestation allegations against him were motivated by money.
"If anybody doesn't think based upon what's happened so far that the true motivation of these charges and these allegations is anything but money and the seeking of money, then they're living in their own Neverland," attorney Mark Geragos said Tuesday, referring to the singer's Santa Barbara County estate.
The vigorous defense of Jackson followed revelations that Geragos and Jackson were secretly videotaped while flying on a private jet to Santa Barbara last week for Jackson's surrender and booking.
Geragos claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against Santa Monica-based XtraJet that the charter company covertly installed two cameras in the plane's cabin.
The cameras "were recording attorney-client conversations and then somebody had the unmitigated gall to shop those tapes around to media outlets in order to sell them to the highest bidder," he said.
"Michael Jackson is not going to be abused. Michael Jackson is not going to be slammed. He is not going to be a pinata for every person who has financial motives," Geragos said after summoning news media to his office building. He refused to take any questions.
Separately, FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said agents went to the headquarters of XtraJet and seized tapes. "We're currently assessing if a federal violation has occurred," McLaughlin said.
Jackson's attorneys earlier in the day won a temporary restraining order against XtraJet, barring any release of two videotapes recorded aboard the private jet.
The tapes' existence came to light when representatives of XtraJet showed it to several news organizations, saying they had found two videotapes aboard one of their jets and wanted to know whether it was legal to distribute or sell them.
The attorney for XtraJet did not immediately return a call for comment.