Of all the bizarre things that happened to Michael Jackson in the run-up to his 2005 acquittal on charges of child molestation, the secret videotaping of his 2003 flight from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara, California, to surrender on the charges was near the top of the list.
On Monday, the owners of the Santa Monica, California-based charter jet company and an aircraft maintenance firm pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to secretly tape Jackson and trying to sell the tapes for profit, according to the Los Angeles Times.
After initially denying any knowledge of the illicit taping, the pleas from XtraJet owner Jeffrey Borer and Arvel Jett Reeves, owner of Chino, California-based maintenance firm Executive Aviation Logistics, brought a surprising end to the government's prosecution of the two men.
"The bottom line is that even famous celebrities deserve some level of privacy in their private communications, especially when they are meeting with their attorneys," Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Shallman said after the guilty pleas were entered in court, according to the Times. "These guys went out and tried to make a bundle of money by attempting to sell these tapes to the tabloids. ... It was pure greed."
A federal grand jury had accused Borer and Reeves of equipping one of XtraJet's Gulfstream aircrafts with hidden video cameras and microphones purchased from stores that sold "spy" equipment. A grand jury charged in a September indictment that the men hoped to sell the footage to a television network. Word of the videotapes leaked out in November 2003 when Fox News said it had been approached about the sale of tapes showing Jackson aboard the flight with his then-attorney Mark Geragos en route to Santa Barbara (see "Jackson Was Illegally Taped On Charter Flight, Lawyer Says").
Borer initially said he had no idea how the secret recording was made. But in Monday's plea agreement, the XtraJet owner acknowledged telling Reeves to install audio-video recording equipment on the jet after learning that Jackson would be chartering it from Las Vegas. While Reeves was responsible for buying and installing the recording equipment, according to the plea agreement, Borer's job was to contact media companies and negotiate the sale of the footage to the highest bidder.
Reeves and an unindicted and unnamed co-conspirator worked into the early morning hours before the flight's scheduled departure to install the camcorders on the Gulfstream, according to court documents, but they were unable to install the microphones because Reeves did not buy the right equipment. What they ended up with was two video recordings of Jackson, Geragos and others on the jet.
Five months after the taping, court papers said that the unnamed co-conspirator told Reeves he had been contacted by the FBI about the incident, and Reeves created a cover story that he had put the cameras in the airplane to help disprove Borer's allegation that he had stolen alcohol from the jet.
Reeves and Borer — who Times sources have identified as a onetime FBI informant — face a maximum of five years in federal prison when they are sentenced in July, as well as fines of $250,000 and the potential loss of their FAA licenses.