By Stephen M. Silverman And Mark Armstrong
November 18, 2003 01:00 AM

Sheriff’s deputies in California showed up at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch on Tuesday armed with a search warrant as part of an investigation into accusations of abuse made by a 12-year-old boy, Court TV reports.

NBC News says that an arrest warrant also has been issued.

Joined by officials from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office, deputies went to Jackson’s estate at 8:30 a.m. PST “as part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” officials tell Reuters, which reports that Jackson, 45, was not at his ranch. His spokesman said he had been in Las Vegas for three weeks shooting a pop video.

“We cannot comment on law enforcement’s investigation because we do not yet know what it is about. Michael will, as always, cooperate fully with authorities in any investigation even as it is conducted, yet again, while he is not home,” said spokesman Stuart Backerman in a statement.

In his own statement, Jackson lashed out at the “rogues’ gallery of hucksters and inside sources” who took to TV shows to talk about him on Tuesday, when the news of the deputies’ arrival broke.

“These characters always seem to surface with a dreadful allegation just as another project, an album, a video, is being released,” Jackson said.

According to an NBC News report, the Jacksons’s family attorney has confirmed that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff issued an arrest warrant for Jackson. The arrest warrant, which authorities reportedly had with the search warrant, was executed on the same day that a new greatest-hits collection was released, featuring Jackson’s latest single, “One More Chance.”

Jackson is due to hold a news conference Wednesday morning. Sheriff’s deputies also are planning one of their own.

No word on what investigators were looking for at the house — though PEOPLE reports that authorities were looking for videotapes and letters, among other items. The search was still in progress into Tuesday night, said reports.

The syndicated TV show Celebrity Justice said the search was prompted by revelations made by a 12-year-old Los Angeles boy in therapy sessions, an allegation repeated by Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred on Wednesday morning’s “Today” show. She added that if this is indeed the case, then the therapist was correct under California law in reporting to authorities what the boy might have said.

Court TV said the probe is not related to the nearly decade-old accusations made by a 14-year-old boy who claimed Jackson molested him. No criminal charges were ever filed in that case, and in 1992 the boy’s family reached an out-of-court settlement with the erstwhile King of Pop.

The search comes almost exactly a year after Jackson made headlines by dangling his then-9-month-old son, Prince Michael II, from the third-floor balcony of his Berlin hotel room. The incident was promptly followed by more bizarre behavior, including a trip to a zoo with his two older kids (Prince Michael I, 6, and Paris Michael, 5) who were covered by veils. Then in February, Jackson revealed during a British TV documentary that he often shares his Neverland bedroom with children.

Following the baby-dangling incident, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist filed a formal complaint with California’s Department of Social Services saying Jackson was “not emotionally stable enough” to care for his kids. (Allred also filed a similar complaint.)

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