Reality dawns at Neverland as Jackson employees are shut out

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The Independent US

The kitsch horror movie that is Michael Jackson's life moved on to a darker plane this weekend with a threat of renewed court action against him in California that could trigger the disintegration of the singer's notorious Neverland estate.

Nearly 50 workers at the ranch have not been paid since December, and are owed a total of $306,000 (£180,000). State regulators now say that, unless Jackson produces the back pay plus $100,000 in fines, they will "go after him". He has until Tuesday to comply. Among those unpaid is said to be his chef, Rudy Lozano, now reported to be running a fast-food stall.

On Thursday, officials barred scores of Jackson employees from entering the ranch after learning that workers' compensation cover had lapsed in January. No work can be done until Neverland either obtains insurance or hires an outside company that has it.

Neverland includes several amusement park rides and has been home over the years to elephants, giraffes, snakes, orang-utans, tigers and a crocodile. Animal welfare agencies have been notified of the shutdown so they can make arrangements to feed and care for the animals. The activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called Friday for Jackson's menagerie to be removed from the ranch and placed in sanctuaries.

The latest troubles at Neverland will feed speculation that Jackson's finances are in dire straits. Jackson's spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain said he had flown to Bahrain late last week. She added: "I'm sure this [situation] will be resolved." But yesterday, Jackson was reported to be in California, staying with his family on their estate at Encino.

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