Men Claim Share of Michael Jackson’s Estate

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Two men who say they nursed Michael Jackson’s career back to health after his acquittal on child molestation charges claim in court that they are entitled to nearly 2 percent of the late singer’s estate.
     Broderick Morris and Qadree El-Amin sued John Branca and John McLain, executors of Jackson’s estate, in Superior Court.
     They claim the King of Pop’s publicist Raymone Bain enlisted their help to find “willing investors, business partners and projects” for Jackson after people abandoned him in droves because of the molestation allegations.
     Bain is not a party to the complaint.
     El-Amin, a principal at Southpaw Management whose clients have included Jackson’s sister Janet, Boyz II Men and Vanessa Williams, claims he met Michael Jackson in 1993. He and Jackson knew each other well enough that El-Amin held his wedding at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, according to the complaint.
     Morris, a concert promoter based in Japan, says he’s produced and promoted concerts for Mariah Carey, Usher, Destiny’s Child and Kanye West.
     Jackson promised them a 1.6 percent stake in the future Michael Jackson Company, because he had no money left to pay them at the time, the men say in the complaint.
     A jury acquitted Jackson of the charges in mid-2005, but Morris and El-Amin say his career was in ruins.
     “His reputation had been sullied; he was beset with civil lawsuits and creditors from virtually all quarters. He was on the verge of bankruptcy,” the men say in the complaint.
     Jackson fled to Bahrain after the trial, ostensibly to escape intense media scrutiny and in hope of getting financial help from that country’s Prince Abdullah al-Khalifa. When that failed, Bain called on Morris and El-Amin to resurrect Jackson’s career, the men say in the complaint.
     “After leaving Bahrain, Mr. Jackson began formulating a plan to revive his career with Ms. Bain, who enlisted the help of [colleague A.] King, El-Amin and Morris to form a joint venture through which they would exploit Mr. Jackson’s prodigious talents – not only in the realm of song and dance but in other areas such as animated filmmaking which Jackson had a passionate interest in for years-and contribute their own unique talents, time, efforts and finances toward putting Jackson back on top of the entertainment world as a performer as well as a businessmen,” Morris and El-Amin say in the complaint.
     In mid-2006, the plaintiff say, they arranged for Jackson to accept a “Legends” award from MTV Japan, and used the trip to meet with Japanese businessmen to explore development of feature films, animation and videogames. The trip restored Jackson’s confidence and his image, according to the complaint.
     Morris claims he used his Japanese contacts – and a great deal of his own money – to make the trip a success.
     “Making arrangements for meetings with potential investors and businesses was neither simple nor easy,” according to the complaint. “Many of the Japanese business people with whom the advisers spoke expressed reluctance to become involved with Jackson because of the negative publicity that had surrounded the trial, notwithstanding his acquittal. In addition, Jackson was cash-poor at the time, which required Morris to contribute more than $400,000 to the joint venture in addition to more than $35,000 in salaries owed to Jackson’s security team. Nonetheless, their efforts resulted in a productive five-day schedule. The trip began with promotional events and, over the next several days, Jackson met with businessmen and potential investors in each of the projects they had discussed: movie production, animated films and arcade games.”
     The trip underscored the need to form a new company, since all of Jackson’s other endeavors were mired in litigation and financial trouble, Morris and El-Amin say. They claim Jackson feared the troubles would scare off investors, and that all agreed on the need to replace the singer’s entire team of lawyers, accountants, business managers and handlers.
     Bain returned to the United States and incorporated The Michael Jackson Company, and Jackson named her as its first president, secretary and chief operating officer, according to the complaint. Jackson chaired the company and appointed his mother Katherine Jackson its treasurer.
     Under the articles of incorporation, Jackson held 75 percent of the company, and gave his mother and Bain each 10 percent. King, Morris and El-Amin each held a 1.6 percent stake in The Michael Jackson Company, according to the complaint.
     Morris and El-Amin claim that they continued working with Bain and Jackson on various projects, including a second trip to Japan. They say filmmaking remained a major focus for Jackson, particularly animated and interactive works.
     Bain and King developed opportunities for Jackson in the music world, according to the complaint. They lined up projects with Kanye West, R. Kelly, Babyface and the Black Eyed Peas, the complaint states.
     Jackson himself reached out to Sony’s then-chairman Rob Weisenthal, Clive Davis and Island Def Jam Records chair L.A. Reid. Jackson also took meetings with executives of Anschultz Entertainment Group, known as AEG.
     By late 2008 however, the plaintiffs say, it “suddenly became difficult even for Ms. Bain to reach Mr. Jackson.” In March 2009, Jackson announced a series of comeback concerts called “This Is It,” produced by AEG.
     Initially, Jackson planned 10 shows in London, followed by dates in Paris, New York and Mumbai. AEG chief Randy Phillips estimated the first 10 dates alone would earn Jackson over $75 million. But after selling a million tickets in less than two hours, Jackson expanded the London residency to 50 dates and planned a full, worldwide tour.
     Jackson died on June 25, 2009 from a lethal combination of propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication that stopped his heart, three weeks before the first show. The L.A. County coroner ruled the death a homicide, and a jury convicted Jackson’s personal doctor, Conrad Murray, of involuntary manslaughter in 2011.
     Murray, who is not a party to the complaint, will serve 4 years in prison.
     After Jackson’s death, the executors of his estate – defendants Braca and McLain – conducted business on behalf of the estate through The Michael Jackson Company, but made no effort to contact the company’s stakeholders, Morris and El-Amin say. They say they asked to inspect the company’s books in December 2012.
     “Defendants responded by filing a petition with the probate court in which they claim that the Jackson estate is the sole owner of The Michael Jackson Company,” the complaint states.
     It continues: “Plaintiffs have not made and do not intend to make a claim on the Jackson estate. Like any other privately held asset, plaintiffs’ equity interest in The Michael Jackson Company exists wholly independently of any other equity holder, including the Jackson estate. And by expressly repudiating plaintiffs’ interest in the company, defendants have created an actual controversy over the ownership of the company. Thus, by this action plaintiffs seek damages for defendants’ breach of the joint venture agreement, and an accounting to ascertain the precise amount they are owed.”
     Known business ventures conducted by the Jackson estate after the singer’s death include the 2009 film “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” which earned $260 million worldwide, and from which the Jackson estate received 90 percent of the profits. In March 2010, the estate inked the largest music contract ever with Sony, a $250 million deal to keep Jackson’s catalog until 2017 as well as the promise of seven posthumous records.
     Morris and El-Amin seek damages for breach of joint venture agreement and an accounting.
     They are represented by Jeffrey Fazio, with Fazio Micheletti, of San Ramon.

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