California Bars Workers from Neverland Ranch Due to Insurance

March 14, 2006

Michael Jackson has been ordered to pay a $69,000 fine and remove 69 employees from his Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, Calif., for allowing workers’ compensation insurance to lapse at the exotic estate that has been home to elephants, orangutans and other animals over the years.

The state issued the order after a Neverland Ranch worker reported that a colleague who was injured did not have the state-required health coverage, said Dean Fryer, a spokesman for the California Department of Industrial Relations.

A subsequent investigation determined that coverage for 69 employees at the Santa Barbara County ranch had lapsed on Jan. 10, Fryer said.

“In effect, it shuts them down,” Fryer said of the order. “They’re not permitting workers to be employed.”

Jackson and his immediate family may still live at Neverland, however, and he could keep the ranch running by hiring an outside company whose employees are covered by workers compensation, Fryer said.

Raymone K. Bain, a spokeswoman for Michael Jackson, said the singer was on a plane from London to the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain most of the day on Thursday after traveling in Europe.

She said he learned of the situation at Neverland when he arrived in Bahrain late in the day, but she had been unable to discuss it with him because of the time difference.

“He’s been made aware,” Bain said. “I’m sure this will be resolved.”

Jackson, 47, has lived in Bahrain since being acquitted of child molestation charges last year.

His 2,600-acre ranch boasts amusement park rides and has been home to elephants, giraffes, snakes, orangutans, tigers and a crocodile. Fryer said local animal welfare agencies were notified of the shutdown so they could make arrangements to feed and care for the animals.

The ranch operators have five days to appeal the order and fine, Fryer said.

In the meantime, if workers are seen at the ranch in violation of the order, the department can seek criminal charges or file a lawsuit.

Thursday’s developments represent the latest in a slew of worker complaints against the ranch.

Since the beginning of the year, 47 employees have complained to the department that they haven’t been paid, Fryer said.

On Tuesday, the department sent a letter to an accounting firm that handles Jackson’s business, demanding payment of $306,000 in wages. Meanwhile, an investigation into the complaints is continuing, Fryer said.

A call to a Los Angeles office of the accounting firm, Bernstein, Fox, Whitman, Goldman & Sloan LLP, was not returned.

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