Members of the Nation of Islam have begun playing a role in Michael Jackson’s affairs, sources close to the Jackson camp tell The Associated Press, although the controversial group denies having any official part in the pop star’s life.
Jackson insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that Nation of Islam members have handled security at the singer’s Neverland ranch and have began taking over some of Jackson’s business affairs since he was accused of committing lewd acts on a child.
The group, which in the past has been accused of anti-Semitism and inflammatory, separatist rhetoric, issued a statement Monday after receiving inquiries from the AP and other news organizations.
“The Nation of Islam, in response to several inquiries, has said today that it has no official business or professional relationship with Mr. Michael Jackson,” said the statement. “The Nation of Islam joins thousands of other people in wishing him well.”
Jackson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, also dismissed the reports and denied that Nation of Islam members had been working out of Geragos’ office.
“They are not part of his defense,” Geragos said. “I’m certainly not pushing away support from anyone, but I don’t ask people what their religious affiliation is when they offer support.”
Geragos acknowledged that when he held a news conference on Jackson’s behalf after charges were announced on Dec. 18, one of those standing behind him was Leonard F. Muhammad, identified on the Nation of Islam’s Web site as its chief of staff.
“Leonard Muhammad was there,” Geragos said. “He’s one of Michael’s supporters.”
Under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam advocates black self-empowerment and a separate African-American state; Jackson is not a Muslim nor a member of the Nation of Islam, according to one of his brothers.
Attorney Brian Oxman, who is a close friend of the Jackson family and has represented some of them in litigation, said his attorney-client relationship with the family restricted what he can say.
“I’ve heard of the claims (about the Nation of Islam), but I do not know their validity.”
Two of Jackson’s business advisers for the past year, Charles Koppelman and Alan Whitman, said they remain in charge of Jackson’s music and finances.
Asked about the Nation of Islam’s reported role in directing Jackson’s affairs, Koppelman said, “It’s not the case as to his music, finances and assets. I think it’s primarily in security.”
Koppelman, a former chief of EMI Records said he has not talked to Jackson about the Nation of Islam. “If he gets involved on a spiritual basis, that’s his business,” he said.
Whitman, an accountant, said he continues to be Jackson’s financial manager. “I receive his bills and write his checks…. Anything else I relate to Mr. Jackson is confidential,” he said.
Jackson’s brother Jermaine has converted to Islam but is not a member of the Nation of Islam. Asked during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” whether his brother planned to convert, Jermaine Jackson said he was not.
Also on Monday, Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman resigned, citing “strategic differences.” Backerman refused to comment on reports involving the Nation of Islam.
Geragos said Backerman was fired last week because he spoke to the news media during a Jackson family get-together Dec. 20 at Jackson’s Neverland estate near Santa Barbara.
The event was designed to show support for the embattled singer after he was charged with seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent, reportedly wine.
“He was terminated by me personally for talking when I told him not to,” Geragos said.
Backerman responded to Geragos’ statement by saying, “That’s untrue.”
“I was the spokesman up until I just resigned. I was actively involved with management,” Backerman said. While Backerman did not immediately explain the reasons for his departure, he said he left reluctantly.
“I was not fired,” he said.