Lou Pearlman, the Svengali-like manager behind Nineties boy bands like Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, O-Town and more, died Friday night behind bars while serving a 25-year prison sentence stemming from a $300 million Ponzi scheme. He was 62.
“Mixed emotions right now, but RIP Lou Pearlman,” ‘N Sync’s Chris Kirkpatrick tweeted following news of Pearlman’s death. Lance Bass added, “Word is that #LouPearlman has passed away. He might not have been a stand-up businessman, but I wouldn’t be doing what I love today [without] his influence. RIP Lou.”
After a failed venture in the aviation business in the mid-Eighties, Pearlman, the cousin of Art Garfunkel, shifted towards music after becoming inspired by the New Kids on the Block’s success. Pearlman created Trans Continental Records and placed an ad in the Orlando area seeking young male singers. Following a multi-million dollar talent search, Pearlman founded the Backstreet Boys, a quintet that would go on to become the bestselling boy band in history.
Looking to further cash in, Pearlman repeated the formula in 1995 to form ‘N Sync, the chart-topping group that launched the career of Justin Timberlake. Now established as a mogul in the industry, Pearlman went on to manage similar groups like LFO, Take 5 and O-Town, which spawned out of the reality series Making the Band.
However, Pearlman’s business relationship disintegrated after the majority of groups he managed sued him in Federal Court for fraud and misrepresentation, with each group claiming that Pearlman pocketed most of the money his groups made. Pearlman was also dogged by allegations of molestation from his cadre of young singers, accusations that first surfaced in a 2007 Vanity Fair profile.
As Pearlman’s music empire crumbled, he was still convincing investors to pump money into his Trans Continental Airlines Travel Services Inc. and Trans Continental Airlines Inc., two fictitious companies that existed only on paper. By 2007, Florida regulators had uncovered Pearlman’s $300 million Ponzi scheme. Sensing arrest, Pearlman fled to Bali, where he was eventually caught in 2007. He was indicted on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and making false statements and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was scheduled for release in 2029.