Grandmother gets Custody of Michael Jackson’s kids

August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, Latest Top Stories, National News, Top Stories

Comments Off

LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson’s mother has gained permanent custody of her late son’s children during a hearing Monday that saw a last-minute objection by the pop icon’s former dermatologist.

michael-jackson-parents

Michael Jackson with Parents.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff made a series of key rulings during the morning portion of the Monday hearing. In addition to approving Katherine Jackson’s guardianship petition, he also granted monthly stipends to the 79-year-old and the three young grandchildren she is now charged with raising.

The ruling came after a few tense moments in which an attorney for Beverly Hills Dr. Arnold Klein, Michael Jackson‘s longtime dermatologist, raised nonspecific objections to the custody arrangements. The attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, said they were based on the doctor’s long-term relationship with the singer and his children.

“Legally, he is not a presumed parent,” Kaplan said. He said Klein had concerns about the children’s education and other day-to-day parenting issues.

Beckloff ultimately determined Klein didn’t have legal standing to object to the care of Jackson’s children, but said he could raise objections later. Klein has repeatedly denied tabloid reports that he is the biological father of Jackson’s children, saying last month on “Larry King Live” that “to the best of my knowledge” he is not.

Diane Goodman, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, told Beckloff that Jackson’s youngest son, Prince Michael II, was born through a surrogate who has no parental rights.

Katherine Jackson’s approval as permanent guardian is in accordance with her son’s wishes, who named her in a 2002 will as the person he wanted to raise his children.

Last week, Katherine Jackson and her son’s ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, reached an agreement over custody issues. Rowe never formally petitioned for custody, but will receive some visits with Jackson’s two oldest children, to whom she gave birth while the couple was married in the late 1990s.

Rowe did not appear in court Monday.

Katherine Jackson arrived Monday, flanked by her daughters LaToya and Rebbie and son Randy Jackson. Several attorneys representing her were also in court.

Beckloff noted that the singer’s two oldest children, 12-year-old Prince Michael and 10-year-old Paris Michael, filed declarations stating their wishes for who would raise them. He did not indicate what they said.

The agenda for Monday’s hearing contained a long laundry-list of issues for Beckloff to rule on. After a morning recess, the judge was expected to consider whether Katherine Jackson can mount a challenge to two men who have are administering her son’s estate, attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain.

The men were named as co-executors of Jackson’s 2002 will, and have already received millions of dollars in the singer’s money, property and a life insurance payout, court filings show. According to Jackson’s will, 40 percent of the estate goes to Katherine Jackson, 40 percent goes to the children, and 20 percent goes to various charities.

It is unclear how much money Katherine Jackson and her grandchildren will receive in allowance from the singer’s estate in the meantime. Beckloff did not state the figures in court and indicated he was likely to seal those details if attorneys asked him to do so.

The proposed figures have been redacted from court filings so far.

Beckloff did trim the amount the three children will receive, saying that there appeared to be some duplication between the expenses Katherine Jackson listed and those listed for the children.

The hearing was attended by more than 20 attorneys representing a variety of interests, including Sony/ATV, a music catalogue in which Jackson had a substantial stake, concert promoter AEG Live, and Columbia Pictures. Several of the attorneys are also handling issues in Britney Spears’ conservatorship case, and an afternoon hearing scheduled in that matter was postponed.

The attorneys were outnumbered only by media outlets jockeying for seats in the hearing. A variety of broadcast, Internet and print media outlets covered the hearing, arriving more than an hour before Beckloff took the bench to get a seat. An overflow room was also required.

7 people in custody for Pensacola murders

July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Crime, Featured, Latest Top Stories, Politics, Special Report, Videos

Comments Off

Masked suspects, some dressed as ninjas, stole a safe and other items during a deadly break-in at the sprawling Florida Panhandle home of a couple known for adopting children with special needs, authorities said Tuesday.

leadimage

Melanie and Byrd Billings were shot to death Thursday in their nine-bedroom home. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan hugged their sobbing adult daughter, Ashley Markham, at a press conference Tuesday to announce that three more people had been arrested, bringing the total to seven.

“It is my honor today to tell you, Ashley, and your family, we have found them and they are in custody,” Morgan said.

Investigators had said previously that there were many motives for the crime, but prosecutor Bill Eddins said Tuesday that robbery was the main one. He would not say what was in the safe or what else might have been taken from the house.

Nine of the couple’s 17 children were home at the time and three saw the intruders but were not hurt.

Morgan said investigators were still looking for at least one more person in the case and at least one of the suspects in custody may have done work at the Billings home. He has previously said the suspects had no direct connection to the victims.

Several of the suspects were day laborers who knew each other through either a pressure washing business or a car detailing group, Morgan said.

The arrests started Sunday with 56-year-old Leonard Gonzalez Sr., who was originally charged with evidence tampering but will be charged with murder, authorities said. He is accused of driving a red van seen on surveillance video pulling away from the Billings home and then trying to paint over it.

His son, 35-year-old Leonard P. Gonzalez Jr., was also arrested Sunday along with day laborer Wayne Coldiron, 41. Both were due in court Tuesday to face murder charges.

Another day laborer, Gary Lamont Sumner, 31, was arrested on a murder charge in a nearby county Monday after he was pulled over in a traffic stop. Morgan said investigators have placed Sumner at the scene, though he would not provide details.

Three more people were arrested Tuesday — a juvenile whom police did not identify; Frederick Lee Thorton Jr., 19; and Donnie Ray Stallworth, 28, who was arrested in Alabama but lives in Florida.

The break-in was captured by an extensive video surveillance system the Billings used to keep tabs on their children.

Surveillance video showed three armed, masked men arriving in the red van, entering through the front of the house and then returning to the vehicle. Others dressed in what the sheriff called “ninja garb” went in through an unlocked utility door in the back. They were in and out in under 10 minutes.

“I think you’ll find this particularly chilling and here’s why: We have a team that enters at the rear of the home and another that enters at the front of the home,” Morgan said. “It leads me to believe this was a very well-planned and methodical operation.”

Morgan said, however, that there was no indication anyone had unlocked the door for the intruders, adding that people in the community felt comfortable leaving their doors unlocked.

The couple owned several local businesses, including a finance company and a used-car dealership. They lived in Beulah, a rural area west of Pensacola, near the Alabama state line, in a house set deep in the woods. They had 17 children in all — 13 of them adopted.

Tips from the public led police to the van on Saturday.

Missing pilot in custody in Florida

January 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Crime, Latest Top Stories

Comments Off

QUINCY, Fla. – Authorities in northern Florida say they have found an Indiana businessman believed to have tried to fake his own death in a plane crash.

Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Jim Corder says 38-year-old Marcus Schrenker is alive and in custody in Gadsden County Tuesday night.

Authorities believe Schrenker let his plane crash in the Florida panhandle and apparently parachuted to safety.

Earlier Story
HARPERSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — With his personal and financial worlds crumbling around him, investment adviser Marcus Schrenker opted for a bailout.

In a feat reminiscent of a James Bond movie, the 38-year-old businessman and amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his death in a plane crash, secretly parachuting to the ground and speeding away on a motorcycle he had stashed away in the pine barrens of central Alabama.

Now the search is on for Schrenker, who is running not only from the law but from divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.

“We’ve learned over time that he’s a pathological liar — you don’t believe a single word that comes out of his mouth,” said Charles Kinney, a 49-year-old airline pilot from Atlanta who alleges Schrenker pocketed at least $135,000 of his parents’ retirement fund.

The events of the past few days appear to be a last, desperate gambit by a man who had fallen from great heights and was about to hit bottom.

On Sunday — two days after burying his beloved stepfather and suffering a half-million-dollar loss in federal court the same day — Schrenker was flying his single-engine Piper Malibu to Florida from his Indiana home when he radioed from 2,000 feet that he was in trouble. He told the tower the windshield had imploded, and that his face was plastered with blood.

Then his radio went silent.

Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open, the cockpit dark. The pilots followed until the aircraft crashed in a Florida Panhandle bayou surrounded by homes. There was no sign of Schrenker’s body. They now know they should never have expected to find one.

More than 220 miles to the north, at a convenience store in Childersburg, Ala., police picked up a man using Schrenker’s Indiana driver’s license and carrying a pair of what appeared to be pilot’s goggles. The man, who was wet from the knees down, told the officers he’d been in a canoe accident.

After officers gave him a lift to a nearby motel, Schrenker apparently made his way to a storage unit he’d rented just the day before his flight. He climbed aboard a red racing motorcycle with full saddlebags, and sped off into the countryside.

Now, a search that began in the air and continued across land and sea has been turned over to the U.S. Marshals.

“I believe he’s out of the U.S.,” Harpersville Police Chief David Latimer said Tuesday. “He’s already shown a mentality that’s interesting to police. He jumped out an airplane and left it to crash who knows where. He’s shown a total disregard for human life. I think he’d do anything to get away.”

At 38, Schrenker was at the head of an impressive slate of businesses. Through his Heritage Wealth Management Inc., Heritage Insurance Services Inc. and Icon Wealth Management, he was responsible for providing financial advice and managing portfolios worth millions.

And by outward appearances, he was doing quite well.

He collected luxury automobiles, owned two airplanes and lived in a 10,000-square-foot house in an upscale neighborhood known as “Cocktail Cove,” where affluent boaters often socialize with cocktails in hand. In May 2000, he wowed onlookers by flying a special airplane at 270 mph, 10 feet above the water and under two bridges in Nassau, Bahamas.

“This stunt should not be attempted by any pilot that wishes to stay alive,” read the caption on a self-made video of the flight posted on YouTube.

He’d come a long way from his humble beginnings in northwest Indiana, where he and his two brothers were raised after their parents’ divorce by their mother and stepfather, a Vietnam veteran who worked at U.S. Steel Corp.

But officials now say Schrenker’s enterprise was ready to topple.

Authorities in Indiana have been investigating Schrenker’s businesses on allegations that he sold clients annuities and charged them exorbitant fees they weren’t aware they would face.

State Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt said Schrenker would close the investors out of one annuity and move them to another while charging them especially high “surrender charges” — in one case costing a retired couple $135,000 of their original $900,000 investment.

The tangled web of Schrenker’s financial affairs began to unravel more than two years ago.

The aviation buff had convinced dozens of active and retired Delta Air Lines pilots — including Kinney — to allow him to manage their retirement accounts. But some of the pilots stopped investing with him after a court case raised questions about his past.

In 2006, with Delta in federal bankruptcy proceedings, he convinced a group of pilots opposed to Delta’s move to terminate their pension plan to let him help.

“He had a way about him — you trusted the guy,” says David M. Smith, one of the retired pilots. “He was very credible. He talked a good story. So, we entrusted him with a task he never produced.”

Two days before the Sept. 1, 2006, hearing at which Schrenker was supposed to testify about an analysis he had done on the pension plan’s viability, he suddenly withdrew from the case.

“It happened very fast,” Smith recalled. “He literally was a no-show. He literally just disappeared. We were shocked at the whole thing.”

The retired pilots were unsuccessful in stopping Delta from terminating the pension plan, and the group accepted a small settlement from the airline.

Smith believes Schrenker may have been running from a past unknown to many of his clients at the time, a past that was disclosed just days earlier in a deposition of him by a Delta lawyer.

“They uncovered things that literally made your jaw open,” said Smith, adding that he and other pilots stopped letting Schrenker manage money for them after the deposition. “I believe he was scared to death that Delta was going to expose him.”

According to the 156-page deposition obtained by The Associated Press, a judge in a 2003 bankruptcy reported being “deeply concerned” that Schrenker was not disclosing thousands of dollars in monthly income to the court and not reporting the income on his tax returns.

“It is obvious to the court that the debtor has access to a significant cash flow that he is using for his personal benefit that has not been disclosed in this bankruptcy filing and in his personal tax returns,” one document reads.

Kinney said he and his parents had invested hundreds of thousands with Schrenker, but considered him more like a family friend than a financial consultant.

Schrenker, his wife and three children vacationed twice at Kinney’s parent’s lake house on northern Georgia’s Lake Lanier. But a few years ago, cracks began to surface in the relationship.

Kinney’s brother discovered $60,000 was inexplicably missing from his 85-year-old father-in-law’s investment with Schrenker. Schrenker told the family not to worry, that the money was still there in complex financial statements.

“It’s still the most disgusting thing I’ve been a part of — to know that someone let you hold their new baby on one side and was basically stealing you from on the other,” Kinney said.

In recent weeks, Schrenker’s life began to spin out of control. According to documents in a lawsuit filed in Indianapolis, Schrenker sent a frantic e-mail to plaintiffs on Dec. 16.

“I walked out on my job about 30 minutes ago,” it read. “My career is over … over one letter in a trade error. One letter!! … I’ve had so many people yelling at me today that I couldn’t figure out what was up or down. I still can’t figure it out.”

It’s unclear to what “error” he is referring. In another e-mail to a neighbor following his disappearance, Schrenker made reference to having “just made a 2 million dollar mistake.” But it appeared he was hoping to work things out.

“I’d rather lose everything than screw a person out of a dime,” he wrote to the plaintiffs in the Indianapolis case.

But things were now out of his hands.

On Dec. 31, officers searched Schrenker’s home, seizing the Schrenkers’ passports, $6,036 in cash, the title to a Lexus and deposit slips for bank accounts in Michelle Schrenker’s name, as well as six computers and nine large plastic tubs filled with various financial and corporate documents.

In the supporting affidavit, investigators suggested Schrenker might have access to at least $665,000 in the offshore accounts of a client.

But it wasn’t just his finances that were in turmoil.

Just a day before, Michelle Schrenker had filed for divorce. She told the people searching the house that her husband had been having an affair and had moved into a condominium a week earlier.

Schrenker’s mother is just happy to know that he is alive. She hopes whoever finds him will treat him well and give him a chance to explain what he did and why.

“Sometimes we just all have too many problems,” Marcia Galoozis said at her home outside Gary, Ind. “And I don’t know what all his problems are, but sometimes we just don’t think straight, get our heads twisted on wrong.”

Hours after Schrenker vanished, neighbor Tom Britt received what he believes is an e-mail from Schrenker.

Despite the fact that no blood was found in the plane, Schrenker suggests in the note that the crash was truly an accident and blamed oxygen deprivation.

“Hypoxia can cause people to make terrible decisions and I simply put on my parachute and survival gear and bailed out,” the e-mail reads.

Britt says the message reads to him like a suicide note.

“I embarrassed my family for the last time,” Britt quoted Schrenker as saying. “By the time you read this I’ll be gone.”

Before the crash, Schrenker’s life was spiraling downward: His wife filed for divorce, and his financial management companies were under investigation.