Who can Britney Spears trust to take care of her affairs until she's well? The pop star, like most major entertainers, used to have a powerful team behind her — including publicists, managers and assistants — who, despite whatever changes in staff she had, generally worked together.
These longtime associates have bailed as the singer's behavior has become increasingly erratic in recent years. She was dropped by her last official management team, the Firm, after her disastrous VMA performance. Instead, she came to rely upon her new friend Sam Lutfi to manage her. And there, her parents claim, is where Britney's already formidable troubles got worse.
Claiming Lutfi has controlled and drugged their daughter, Jamie and Lynne Spears have worked in the past few weeks — and have even obtained a restraining order — to keep Britney away from a man with a troubling past and questionable motives, whose apparent idea of "managing" the famous pop star was to be her constant companion. He moved into her home; stayed up and out with her all night; and escorted her on multiple, often aborted trips to court hearings and depositions in her ongoing custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline, as well as seemingly random excursions to gas stations, coffee shops and drug stores. These trips have become the primary basis of recent media coverage of the singer, and some paparazzi claim Lutfi has tipped them off as to the singer's whereabouts. Some allege he benefited financially from the arrangement — a claim he has denied.
MTV News looked into Lutfi's past and found information that would seem to support Britney's parents' concern, including past restraining orders obtained by individuals who accused him of harassment, humiliation, emotional blackmail and extortion. We have also learned of phone conversations, where Lutfi allegedly admits to taking advantage of the singer for his and others' financial gain.
Lutfi denies any claims of impropriety, and in the wake of the restraining order preventing him from having contact with Britney, has hired a press rep — not to represent Britney, at a time when she desperately needs a publicist, but to rehabilitate his own image as the singer's savior. That publicist, Michael Sands, held a press conference February 7 (in between appearances on talk shows like "Larry King Live"), when he insisted Lutfi's mission is to "rescue Britney Spears."
"We want to get her back onstage and doing the right thing," Sands told MTV News before the press conference. "So I'm working with Sam to reinvent her image." (Lutfi has not responded to MTV News' multiple requests for comment, and Sands has said that Lutfi will not be speaking with the media, despite his recent interviews with Us Weekly and X17.)
The move to "reinvent" Britney and Lutfi wouldn't be so surprising if Sands' previous job hadn't been working against them. As the rep for Federline's attorney Mark Vincent Kaplan, Sands worked to help damage both Britney's and Lutfi's images in order to reposition Kevin's. For instance, in December, when a process server's attempt to give Lutfi a subpoena in the custody case resulted in a car accident, Sands pointed an accusatory finger at Lutfi as not only a bad driver, but a bad influence on the singer. Sands claimed in a press release that Lutfi "decided to use his new [Mercedes-Benz] S550 as a lethal weapon to ram the (process servers') two cars."
"Why would any person be frightened of a subpoena?" Sands asked of him, implying that Lutfi had something to hide. He suggested that reporters look into the question: "Who is Sam Lutfi, anyway?"
So why the turnaround? Sands claims that after Lutfi asked him to come onboard, he did his own "research" and ultimately concluded that Sam was a good guy. "He's squeaky-clean," Sands now insists, claiming that a source at an unnamed government agency, whom he trusts but cannot identify, has "cleared" him. (He later sent an e-mail alert that said, "The CIA passed this along to me for your reading pleasure" and included an article about antidepressants, which presumably refers to reports that the singer is suffering from bipolar disorder, and seemingly attempts to imply that the CIA had something to do with clearing Lutfi's name.)
But what of the allegations against Lutfi? "Yes, Sam's had restraining orders," Sands said. "But that's in the past. He doesn't have a criminal record. He hasn't defrauded anyone."
Danny Haines, who had a similar friend/manager relationship with Lutfi, tells a different story. One of the three people who secured a restraining order against Lutfi, Haines recently went public about his ordeal, at the behest of Spears' parents, in the new issue of Blender. Haines told MTV News that he's been in touch with Britney's father, speaking to Jamie Spears a couple of times a week. He said they're planning a sit-down with Britney so he can share his experience with her, in the hope that she would recognize "the profile."
"[Lutfi] finds your weaknesses," Haines said, "and for him, it's an opportunity. He gets inside your head and acts like he can save you."
Reluctant to reveal his current occupation, Haines previously aspired to a career in show business and had done a bit of modeling (including nude modeling). He met Lutfi on MySpace in 2005 and was impressed with what Lutfi said were his showbiz credentials and celebrity connections. Lutfi told him he was a movie producer, Haines said, but Lutfi's known work is limited to the 1998 films "Bug Busters" and "Circles" (also known as "Crossing Paths") and the 2001 film "Crossing Cords." While Lutfi's production partner Ted Collins continues to make films (his latest is called "The Intervention"), Lutfi's résumé appears to have stalled seven years ago. (Perhaps he switched gears — Spears' former assistant Kalie Machado told Rolling Stone that upon meeting him, Lutfi had presented himself to her as a private eye who had worked for Kevin Federline. Sands said he hadn't heard about that.)
For his part, Haines said Lutfi seemed "knowledgeable," like "an expert," which led him to believe that Lutfi could open doors for him. So when Lutfi offered to "manage" him, Haines let him become his counselor. He also confided his personal problems to Lutfi and accompanied him to Hollywood clubs. "He is, as much as I hate to say it, a sociable guy," Haines said. "So it's fun. You go out a lot, you trust him, you tell him things. In order to help you, he tells you he needs to know if you're a 'good person,' so you have to confess your sins. And then you wonder, 'Am I a bad person?' You question yourself."
But when Haines started to resist Lutfi's efforts, he said Spears' manager turned on him, calling him names and sending nude photos of Haines from a homoerotic photo shoot to Haines' family, friends and employer. Last spring, after arguing in court over these and other claims — such as Lutfi allegedly calling Haines' ex-girlfriend and telling her untruthfully that Haines had AIDS — Haines won a restraining order against Lutfi that is good for three years. (When asked about the accusations, Sands responded that anything that happened to Haines is "all in the past.")
Soon after their friendship foundered, Haines said, Lutfi took up with Spears.
"I don't want to say anything that would push her away [from me] or make her want to defend him," Haines said, "but maybe there's something in what happened to me that she would relate to. But she's got it worse than I ever did."
Calling him a "master manipulator," Haines said Lutfi requires constant access, "otherwise, it doesn't work." He sees a similarity in the way Lutfi took up residence in Britney's home prior to her hospitalization, something he had done with Haines last year. In fact, Haines ended up trusting Lutfi so much that he mistakenly gave his old roommate enough information to damage to his financial records. "He has my Social Security [number], my mother's maiden name, anything that could be a password," Haines said. Ultimately, Lutfi ended up taking $20,000 in one instance and $18,000 in another, Haines claimed — though the funds were eventually paid back, Sands insisted when MTV News asked him about the matter.
Jamie and Lynne have worked to ensure that Lutfi wouldn't have any such opportunity with their daughter. After obtaining the restraining order against him (which lasts through February 22), Jamie Spears gained temporary conservatory powers over his daughter's person and estate, at least through March 10. With those powers, he's hired a new security detail for Britney and fired people on her team who worked with Lutfi, including Howard Grossman, the singer's business manager. Lutfi had denied taking money from Spears, and Sands has insisted all the singer's funds were safe, since they went to Grossman. "It does not go to Sam," Sands said. "Sam does not control her interests. He can't get access to her money."
However, after seeing e-mails Grossman received from Lutfi, according to court documents released Monday, a judge decided to allow Jamie Spears to sever the relationship. The documents reveal that Lutfi had made several demands of Grossman, including "demands for money." Jamie Spears' lawyers for the conservatorship also argued that Grossman ignored the court's orders as well as the conservatorship's wishes by arranging for Britney to meet with an attorney after the court had already determined she was not capable of hiring direct counsel, and by having a car delivered to her directly. "The temporary co-conservators believe that they cannot trust Mr. Grossman to follow instruction," read the motion to fire him.
Grossman refused to comment when approached by reporters at the hearing, but had previously told People magazine, "The only thing I will say is my reputation speaks for itself. I couldn't tell you why they chose this path."
"We believe that it would be highly inappropriate for us to comment," Jamie Spears' attorney Jeffrey Wexler told MTV News.
Because her father's powers are only temporary, Haines hopes that he can help Britney decide for herself to get out of her relationship with Lutfi. So does Haines' friend Ken Dungey, who says he has spoken with Lutfi about his relationship with the singer, even accompanying them on one of their paparazzi-documented trips to Petco.
Dungey revealed to MTV News that in those phone conversations, which he has documented, Lutfi bragged to him on multiple occasions about how he was "controlling" Britney so that he and his friends could financially benefit from the constant paparazzi coverage of her. In one instance, Lutfi allegedly told Dungey about an agreement he had with Britney's paparazzo boyfriend, Adnan Ghalib, that enabled Ghalib to sell his story as long as he didn't use explicit photographs. Dungey claimed Lutfi said to him, "I was like [to Ghalib], 'You can sell whatever you want, just don't make it nasty. No more hidden cameras. No more hidden videos. You better work with me.' And he agreed. I made him sign a piece of paper. ... He knows it's not going to last."
For his part, Ghalib denies that he got involved with Britney to profit from it. "No, never," he told "Entertainment Tonight." "And in time, I think people will understand that." As for the couple's future, "I'd say this relationship is far from over," Ghalib told "ET," "but then, I don't have the ultimate say in this relationship."
Is it Britney or Lutfi, then, who decides who's in or who's out in the singer's inner circle? Dungey claims that Lutfi also bragged about his power to make random people famous, after sending his assistant Chad Hardcastle on a few of the singer's errands with her. Hardcastle subsequently received modeling and acting offers. Dungey claims Lutfi told him, "I told [Chad], 'Look, overnight I can make you a superstar. Everyone will know who you are.' He was extremely loyal to me over the summer, and he got his [reward]." Dungey said Lutfi then boasted he was "making more money than most American CEOs."
Beyond their concerns of financial impropriety — which Lutfi has denied on multiple occasions — Britney's parents, according to mother Lynne's sworn declaration to the court, also fear that Lutfi has been drugging Britney. Sands says Lutfi has admitted to giving the singer a regiment of drugs prescribed by one of her former doctors. "Sam was giving her cocktails," Sands told MTV News. "I don't know which doctor prescribed those three drugs [the antipsychotic medications Risperdal and Seroquel and the stimulant Adderall], but the medication she was taking was not agreeing with her. It wasn't the right cocktail."
New York psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz tells MTV News that those three medications "don't necessarily work in combination" and many psychotropic drugs "should not be taken with alcohol," as Lynne Spears said she witnessed Lutfi encouraging Britney to do, according to her sworn declaration. "Alcohol is disinhibiting, disruptive to the sleep cycle and a depressant," Saltz said, "all of which would be problematic for anyone struggling with a mood disorder."
As for crushing the pills into Britney's food, as Lutfi has admitted to doing, Saltz says that procedure is problematic as well. "The issue would be: Is the proper dose being consumed? Because if not all the food is eaten, then not all of the drug is taken," she said. "Rare foods, like grapefruit, can alter the metabolism of many drugs and can create problems of the amount of drug in your blood level. It's a bad idea to 'sneak' someone's medicine [into their food] because they may likely take other things without your knowledge which could interact or be dangerous with the meds you snuck into them. I have not heard of doctors recommending anyone hide pills in a patient's food."
And while Lutfi has accused Britney's father Jamie of being verbally abusive to his daughter, Lynne Spears claims in her petition for a restraining order that it's actually Lutfi dishing out the abuse. Lynne wrote that Lutfi called her daughter "an unfit mother, a piece of trash and a whore." Lynne also claimed Lutfi yelled at her, and Britney's response when that happened was, "Sam treats me like that." Dungey also claimed he overheard Lutfi on the phone calling Britney an "idiot" and a "f---ing retard!" when she put tea bags in the garbage disposal, and a "b---h" when she was crying because he wanted to leave the house without her.
"Name-calling? We all do that," Sands said, when asked about the accusations. "Yes, he swore at Lynne Spears. He admitted he did that. But no, he's not controlling Britney, he's controlling the environment, so that he can protect her."
What — or whom — Britney needs to be protected from remains in dispute. But Haines said he worries that the pop star will end up with serious drug problems or, worse, killing herself, "like [Sam] advised me to do." "He told me to pop a whole bottle of pills," Haines told MTV News, a charge originally leveled, according to court transcripts, during hearings held in his petition to obtain the restraining order against Lutfi. "I don't mean to sound like a wimp, but ... I felt emotionally raped. I don't know what else to call it. I ended up quitting my job, I was withdrawn, I was a mess. It took me six or seven months to feel normal again." Sands said he's "not here to answer every allegation" against Lutfi, and dismissed Haines' claims as being "all in the past."
The restraining order prohibiting Lutfi from being in contact with Spears remains in effect until February 22. Jamie Spears' conservatorship powers were extended to March 10 during a hearing held in Los Angeles on Thursday (February 14).