DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Workers Barred From Neverland

State: Jacko not paying wages, insurance. Whither the llamas?

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Workers Barred From Neverland

MARCH 9--Citing Michael Jackson's failure to cover his employees with required insurance, California state labor officials today effectively closed the singer's Neverland Ranch and fined him $69,000, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Investigators with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement arrived at the sprawling Los Olivos estate this morning and served a work stoppage order on a security guard. Additionally, in a March 7 letter, the state apprised Jackson that more than 30 workers have filed unpaid wage claims against him and that he owes those employees more than $300,000, as well as penalties in excess of $100,000.

The state's demand letter contends that Jackson has been welshing on his employees since last December.

Today's state "stop order" bars Jackson from "using any employee labor" until he secures required workers' compensation insurance and warns that if Jackson fails to abide by the enforced work stoppage he could be charged with a criminal misdemeanor. In addition to being fined $1000 apiece for 69 workers, Jackson is also liable for up to 10 days pay for those employees who now are no longer allowed to report to Neverland for work.

While it is unclear how many workers are still employed at the cash-strapped Jackson's ranch, state officials used the 69 worker figure based on Neverland's most recent quarterly tax report, filed in December 2005, which said that 69 employees worked there. According to state records, Jackson's workers' comp policy expired about two months ago.

The 47-year-old singer has been out of the country since shortly after his June 2005 acquittal on child molestation charges. Since then, he has been spotted in Bahrain and, more recently, London. (3 pages