Michael Jackson PR aide gives damaging evidence

A Las Vegas public relations specialist who briefly worked for Michael Jackson gave damaging testimony against the pop star yesterday, suggesting his associates arranged a smear campaign against the family who would ultimately accuse him of molestation.

A Las Vegas public relations specialist who briefly worked for Michael Jackson gave damaging testimony against the pop star yesterday, suggesting his associates arranged a smear campaign against the family who would ultimately accuse him of molestation.

Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting 13-year-old cancer survivor Gavin Arvizo at his Neverland Ranch in 2003, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold the boy’s family captive.

The charges were sparked by British journalist Martin Bashir’s 2003 documentary, Living With Michael Jackson, in which the pop star said he let young boys sleep in his bedroom.

Ann Marie Kite said she was told by a Jackson lawyer that they would portray the mother of a boy as a “crack whore” – slang for a drug-addicted prostitute - in the media.

Kite was hired to handle Jackson’s crisis management after the airing of a damaging documentary, but she worked for him for only six days and never met the singer.

But in an aggressive cross-examination, defence lawyer Thomas Mesereau turned her account into a description of Jackson as a victim of people in his inner circle who were trying to damage his reputation.

Undermining the testimony about Jackson’s accuser and his family, Mesereau elicited from Kite that she never met the family, did not know their relationship to Jackson and was alerted to their involvement third hand.

And in an unusual development, she said she learned that one member of what she called Jackson’s “team” may have been planted to try to wrest away his co-ownership of a highly valuable music catalogue.

The witness spent all day on the stand, undergoing such a long cross-examination that Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville warned Mesereau to cut it off.

“I want you to look at the jury and realize they are tired of listening to this,” Melville said. “You need to grasp the evidence and not keep repeating it.”

Kite said there was alarm in the Jackson camp when the woman and her children abruptly left Neverland in the middle of the night in the aftermath of the documentary.

“It made me very uncomfortable,” she said of being told by Jackson associate Marc Schaffel that the mother and children had left. Jackson’s indictment names Schaffel as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Later the same day, she said, Schaffel told her “the situation had been contained. … He said they had been brought back to the ranch. I didn’t understand why he would be upset about them leaving the ranch.”

She said she then contacted her ex-boyfriend, David LeGrand, a lawyer for Jackson who had hired her.

“I said: ’Don’t make me believe that these people were hunted down like dogs and brought back to the ranch,”’ she said.

She said he told her: “I can’t discuss this right now.”

Prosecutors called Kite to support allegations that Jackson and associates held the family against their will at Neverland and other locations throughout February 2003 to force them to help in a public relations campaign to rehabilitate his image.

Defence attorneys say the family was free to leave at any time.

Kite said she was hired on February 9, 2003, six days after the documentary aired, and was terminated on February 15 with no reason given.

A former Jackson lawyer, Mark Geragos, later asked her to sign a confidentiality agreement but she refused, the witness said.

“I believed it would negatively impact me. I believe it was designed to shut me up,” she said.

Kite said that later she contacted her ex-boyfriend again and was told the mother would not be a problem.

“He said that they no longer had to worry about (the mother) because they had her on tape and they were going to make her look like a crack whore,” she said.

The conversation was apparently a reference to a videotaped statement the family made on February 19-20, 2003, in which they praised Jackson.

On cross-examination, Mesereau stressed that Kite never met the singer or most of his associates and dealt with them only by telephone.

“In the six days that you represented Mr. Jackson did you feel you became an expert on Mr. Jackson’s life?” the attorney asked acerbically.

“Oh no, sir,” she said.

Asked about her expertise in representing celebrities, she said the only one she had ever represented was Marshall Sylver, a Las Vegas hypnotist who appeared in informercials.

Earlier, under prosecution questioning, Kite mentioned child molestation allegations that the pop star faced in 1993 but which did not result in charges. The reference was made even though the judge has not yet ruled on whether prosecutors will be allowed to present evidence from 1993.

The prosecution had asked about other public relations problems Jackson faced in February 2003.

Kite listed both the Bashir-produced documentary that triggered the current case, and the leaking of information from the 1993 allegations to the Web site thesmokinggun.com. Kite said the latter allegations involved inappropriate actions with a young boy.

The document released by the website was an affidavit from Jackson’s 1993 accuser in which the boy graphically described alleged molestation by the singer.

“In combination with the Bashir documentary I felt it was beyond a disaster,” Kite said.

Mesereau objected to questions about 1993, and the judge cautioned jurors that they were only to consider the testimony as it related to explaining Kite’s motivations and not for the “truth of the matter.”

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