Its doors may remain closed for now, but Michael Jackson is one step closer to reopening his beloved Neverland Ranch.
California authorities have confirmed that representatives for the singer, who was ordered to pay $304,000 in back wages to 69 of his employees plus an additional $100,000 in fines, are processing the 10 weeks' worth of owed payroll, paving the way for the singer to reopen his Santa Barbara County estate as early as next week.
"We have confirmed that Michael Jackson's representatives are processing the wages ... and will be distributing payroll directly to the employees tomorrow," Dean Fryer, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Industrial Relations, told MTV News on Wednesday (March 15).
Jackson was ordered to shut down Neverland last week after the state caught wind that the singer hadn't paid his employees since December (see "Michael Jackson Ordered To Shut Down Neverland Ranch"). None of the workers had been covered by workers'-compensation insurance either, which is an issue still to be handled by Jackson's reps.
"They said they're working on it, so it's in the works," added Fryer, who noted it usually takes a couple of days to get the insurance in place. Until then, no one is allowed back on the 2,800-acre property.
The singer was originally given until Tuesday to fork over the money, but he was granted a one-day extension by the state, offering him until Wednesday at 5 p.m. to meet the deadline. If Jackson failed to comply, he could have faced another legal battle within the state, as authorities insisted they would not hesitate to file a civil suit against him to acquire the funds.
However, legal action will not be necessary at this point, according to acting California Labor Commissioner Robert Jones, who said in a statement on Wednesday, "There is no need to take [that kind of action] in this matter at this time, as our main concern that all employees receive wages owed to them is being addressed. As directed in a letter on March 7 demanding payment of wages, arrangements have been made to ensure that all employees are paid wages owed to them."
The total amount in back wages paid won't be known until the payroll process is complete and Jackson's records have been verified, which could take until Friday, Fryer said. At that point, the department will calculate any penalties, whose amounts should be available by next week.
Jackson's spokesperson could not be reached for comment.