LOS ANGELES (AP) – In the decade since Michael Jackson was first accused of child molestation, his record sales have plummeted, his concert dates have been few and far between – and his income has dwindled as well.

Still, the entertainer has maintained an opulent lifestyle, so lavish that prosecutors maintain he spends like a billionaire on a millionaire’s budget.

Many details about Jackson’s finances remained sketchy during the proceedings. But forensic accountant John Duross O’Bryan testified that the singer had an “ongoing cash crisis” and was spending $20 million to $30 million more per year than he earned.

A balance sheet dated June 30, 2002, indicated Jackson had assets of $130 million and liabilities of $415 million, O’Bryan said.

The testimony included references to memos by Jackson financial managers warning that to balance the books and clear huge loans held by Bank of America Corp., he might have to sell his share of up to 50 percent of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which owns and administers copyrights to thousands of songs – including the words and music to 251 Beatles tunes.

Analysts estimate Sony/ATV could be worth as much as $1 billion.

The catalog provides Jackson a steady stream of income and has been used as collateral to secure $200 million in loans from Bank of America.

The prospect of selling his stake in the catalog has split Jackson’s advisers. In recent months, some urged him to rid himself of debt by selling part or even all of his music publishing holdings, said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has advised the entertainer on personal matters.

In April, the pop star faced the possibility of losing the catalog to foreclosure when he was a day late making a $3 million payment to Bank of America, said the Rev. Jackson, who contacted the company’s president on behalf of the singer.

The move “worked out well and Michael no longer has a cash flow problem,” the Rev. Jackson said. “It was really unnecessary for any kind of a foreclosure. But if the foreclosure had taken place, it would have had an impact on Michael’s catalog. His whole financial empire would come crumbling down.”

Michael Jackson and his representatives insist that assets such as the Sony/ATV catalog and his Neverland estate ensure his financial house is in order. In a March interview by the Rev. Jackson broadcast over the Internet, the entertainer denied rumors that he is near bankruptcy.

“That’s not true at all. It’s just one of their many schemes to embarrass me,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the pop star, Raymone K. Bain, denied reports that Jackson might sell his music holdings.

“Michael is not selling his catalog,” Bain said, adding that Sony had not made any overtures to buy him out.

Jackson built his fortune in the 1980s as one of the world’s most popular entertainers. His 1982 album “Thriller” sold 26 million copies and included huge hits such as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” Five years later, “Bad” sold 22 million copies. In 1991 he signed a $65 million recording deal with Sony.

But one of Jackson’s shrewdest deals was his 1985 acquisition of ATV Music for $47.5 million. When he ran into financial problems a decade later, he agreed to a deal with Sony to merge ATV with Sony’s library of songs and sold Sony music publishing rights for $95 million. Sony paid Jackson a total of $150 million as part of the ATV merger agreement, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person close to the 1995 deal.

As his financial problems continued, Jackson began to borrow large sums of money, according to a 2002 lawsuit by Union Finance & Investment Corp. that sought $12 million in unpaid fees and expenses.

Jackson had hired Union Finance in 1998 to help straighten out his finances. The firm soon discovered Jackson was “a ticking financial time bomb waiting to explode at any moment,” according to the suit, which was later settled.

By 2001, Jackson had borrowed $200 million from Bank of America, according to court testimony. Last month, New York-based Fortress Investment Group, which specializes in troubled debt, acquired Jackson’s Bank of America loan.

Bain said the move will give the pop star “greater financial strength and flexibility.” Details of the deal were not disclosed.

Jackson owns homes in Las Vegas and the Encino area of Los Angeles along with his 2,600-acre Neverland ranch in Santa Barbara County. With an amusement park and zoo, the estate has an estimated value of as much as $100 million.

If the pop icon is acquitted, it’s hard to estimate how much he might expect to earn from new albums or tours. His box set, “The Ultimate Collection,” sold just 57,000 copies last year. The “Number Ones” compilation album released in 2003 sold 903,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

At this point, the terms of his recording deal with Sony are unclear. A spokesman for Sony BMG Music Entertainment said the company does not comment on its artists’ contract terms.

Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a publication that tracks the concert business, said the trial may hurt Jackson’s image, but not permanently.

“There’ll be promoters who will be lined up to work with him if he’s acquitted,” Bongiovanni said.


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