|At The Forge (from left): Shareef Malnick, Al Malnick, Serena Williams, Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker, and Bret Ratner (front).
[UPDATED: Holy shit. Jose Lambiet got Malnik on the phone, and he said Michael Jackson named him the executor of his will and godfather and guardian of Jackson's youngest son, Prince Michael "Blanket" Jackson. Read Lambiet's "Page 2" post here. Malnik also spoke with CBS4's Lisa Petrillo and said he was executor of the will in 2004, but he's not sure if he's still in the will. Considering the fact that Jackson reportedly believed he was the victim of a
"conspiracy" by Malnik and Tommy Mottola to grab his assets, I doubt Malnik is still either executor or guardian of Blanket. But wow, Malnik really got his hooks into the King of Pop. The crazy thing is that neither Lambiet nor Petrillo mentioned Malnik's Mafia past, which is arguably the best part of the story. Guess that's why Malnik talked to them. This Malnik thing is going to get madly interesting, I'm afraid.]
Facing a criminal trial and millions in bail costs and legal bills, Michael Jackson found a "friend" in a local man: reputed mobster Al Malnik.
Malnik, owner of the Forge restaurant in Miami and a former close associate of Mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky, befriended the pop king and let him stay in his 15-bedroom, 35,000-square-foot Palm Beach County mansion in Ocean Ridge. Jackson even sat with Malnik at the head table during Malnik's 70th birthday bash at the Forge in 2003.
The ultra-wealthy Malnik, who made a fortune in the shady and predatory title loan business and also has ties to notorious con man Joel Steinger, not only helped Jackson pay the costs of the criminal case but also reportedly helped him try to pay off massive loans Jackson took against the value of the Beatles' catalog he co-owned with Sony. The Beatles' song rights are reportedly worth about a billion dollars.
But Malnik, in his business dealings, has never been known for helping anyone without expecting more in return. He learned from Lansky, after all, and was dubbed the mobster's "heir apparent" by Reader's Digest when Lansky died in 1983. He was banned from Atlantic City casinos by the New Jersey Gaming Commission after it was determined he was associated with criminals, including Lansky and mobster Sam Cohen. (The feds charged Malnik with tax evasion in 1969 after gathering heavily incriminating audiotapes, but the case was tossed when it was determined the tapes were illegally obtained by agents.) But Malnik and Jackson at some point had a falling out. Fox News' Roger Friedman, who dug into the relationship, reported that it might have been because Jackson had surrounded himself with the Nation of Islam. Still another report claimed it was because Jackson noticed that Malnik had a statue on his property that looked like the devil.
Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth reported in 2005 that a cloak-and-dagger source named Gordon Novel told her that Jackson came to believe that Malnik was part of a conspiracy by Sony, which owned half of the Beatles catalog, to take over the entire asset of songs. Involved in the alleged conspiracy was former Sony head Tommy Mottola and Hollywood director Brett Ratner, who grew up in Miami under Malnik's wing. Here's a passage from Orth's story:
Jackson explained to Novel that the conspirators had introduced him to Al Malnik, a wealthy Miami attorney who had once represented Meyer Lansky. Malnik later helped Jackson refinance his loans. That was not what Jackson told Novel, however. According to Novel, Jackson said he was lured to Malnik's house in Miami Beach by film director Brett Ratner to see a house so beautiful it would make him catatonic. He said that once he was there, however, Malnik, who Jackson claimed had Mafia ties, wanted to put his fingers in the singer's business. Jackson also said he received a call from Tommy Mottola while he was there, which aroused his suspicion, but he did not tell Novel that he later put Malnik on the board of the Sony/ATV Music partnership. (Reached by telephone, Malnik scoffed at the idea of a conspiracy or of his having any Mafia ties. He said, "It does not make any sense." Ratner confirmed that he took Jackson to Malnik's house and that he considers Malnik a father figure.)
This all sounds like terribly murky stuff. Were veteran financial vampires like Malnik and Mottola trying to suck every bit of worth they could out of the shaky and vulnerable Jackson? Or was Jackson just letting his paranoia get the best of him? Or was Gordon Novel (read about him here) the one who really dreamed it all up in the first place?
The question that I don't think has ever been answered is what, exactly, Malnik ever got out of Jackson. I called Malnik, and his secretary told me he wasn't available for comment on Jackson. Perhaps the truth will come out as the inevitable battlings over Jackson's estate go public. But one thing is clear: The fact that Michael Jackson had to go to Malnik for "help" is a clear indication of just how chaotic and sad his life had become.