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Jackson lawyer: Neverland saved
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Michael Jackson reached an 11th-hour deal to refinance his troubled Neverland Ranch, his lawyer said Thursday, avoiding a public auction of the property that had been scheduled next week.

Jackson attorney L. Londell McMillan told The Associated Press the pop star has worked out a "confidential" agreement with Fortress Investment Group LLC allowing him to retain ownership of the famed property in Los Olivos, Calif.

"Neverland and MJ are fine," McMillan said.

A representative for Fortress did not immediately return a call for comment.

The property was scheduled to be auctioned March 19 after Jackson went into default on the $24.5 million he owes on the 2,500-acre spread in the rolling hills of central California's wine country.

A representative of Financial Title Co. of San Francisco, which filed the default notice, did not immediately return a call for comment.

A source close to Jackson, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it's not clear whether the entertainer will keep Neverland.

Jackson has not lived there since his acquittal on child molestation charges in 2005, and residents of Los Olivos, the small town that gained attention in the movie "Sideways," say rumors of its imminent sale have been rampant for months.

Among those rumored to be interested in the property are soccer star David Beckham, said Kim Morrison, one of the administrators of a private school located across the road from Neverland.

"It would be nice to have Beckham there," said Morrison, although she quickly added that Jackson "was always a good neighbor."

Jackson bought the property years ago from a local cattle rancher and turned it into his personal playground, naming it after the mythical land of Peter Pan where boys never grow up. The singer, who was a star before he reached his teens, has said it was an effort to recreate the childhood he was denied.

He installed a zoo stocked with exotic animals and more than a dozen amusement park rides, including a merry-go-round and a train to rival Disneyland's.

During the ranch's heyday in the late 1980s and 1990s, Jackson would frequently bring ill or disadvantaged children by the busload to the ranch to enjoy it with him.

Since he left in 2005 the exotic animals have been removed and the ranch is said to have fallen into disrepair.

"No one is living here," a security guard at the front gate said this week.

(Associated Press March 14, 2008)

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