Prisoner Lou Pearlman is better than Madoff, worse than you remember


Though he may not have scammed $18 billion of unwitting investors with quite the Ponzi flourish of Bernie Madoff, former TransCon megalomaniac (and Orlandoan) Lou Pearlman is apparently appreciating his own half-billion-dollar racket in the context of Madoff's from his low-security confinement in the Federal Correction Institute Texarkana, according to a new piece published by the Hollywood Reporter. "[Madoff] didn't have any real way to make money," Pearlman tells the magazine via phone, "but I had the music. Backstreet Boys each made well over $50 million apiece. I, of course, got my piece, and it was very nice and very substantial."

Of course, everything about Pearlman was, cough, substantial, including his jovial ability to bilk teen models and senior citizens alike out of their life savings. Insubstantial (or at least unsubstantiated) were the claims that Pearlman liked slipping his hand (among other things) in the cookie jar of his boyband empire that once included the Backstreet Boys and 'NSync in their respective heydays, while simultaneously not paying the boys their due. The Hollywood Reporter addresses those allegations thusly: 

Rumors ran rampant of Pearlman's predilection for the buff, blond boys in his entourage, even as he dated nurse-turned-girlfriend TammieHilton, never consummating the relationship in 10 years ("He was very religious," Hilton has said). Bass remembers being warned to keep his distance. "We would hear things, for sure," he says. "He would always have young boy limo drivers for Trans Continental Records; those limo drivers would always be put into different boy bands. Then I'd hear rumors that he would molest the boys before they would even get into the groups. I don't know how much of that is true, but to me, where there's smoke, there's fire."

The members of 'N Sync would crack one another up by imitating Pearlman's habit of manhandling them. "He'd always grab our arms and feel our muscles and go: 'Hey boys, you workin' out? Yeahhhh!' " says Bass, affecting Pearlman's playfully gruff intonation. But he says Pearlman never crossed that line with him, adding that he felt sympathy for a man with whom he suspected he shared a deep secret. "Even as a young guy, I assumed that Lou probably was gay," says Bass. "It didn't really bother me. I knew then that I was gay, so I kind of related to him in a way."

The allegations were the focus of the 2007 Vanity Fair exposé "Mad About the Boys," which relied on innuendo and hearsay but contained no first-person accounts of sexual misconduct. A high-ranking former Trans Continental staffer (who asked to remain anonymous to avoid being drawn into any legal disputes) recalls an incident from 2000 involving IkaikaKahoano, a finalist on Pearlman's hit ABC reality show Making the Band. "Lou picked him as the 'chosen one' to live in the house," recounts the source. "He said: 'I'll be like a father to you -- me and you against the world. We have a secret. I'll take care of you. You'll be my guy.' " Over time Kahoano grew visibly uncomfortable in Pearlman's presence and "completely freaked out," the source says, whenever the label head tried to touch him. Kahoano's brother flew in from Hawaii soon after and never left his side, a fact that didn't make it to air. Kahoano, who declined comment for this story, abruptly quit the show, and the band O-Town, midseason.

Anyway, it appears that Pearlman is doing just fine in prison, hanging with the blue-collar criminal elite while avoiding the crazies. He's still got notions of conquering the world, and even challenging One Direction in the current nubile nobility totem. (Hilariously, when we last spoke to Pearlman in 2008, he was planning to manage local terrors Biteboy into a southern rock, reality television juggernaut lather while awaiting his federal prison transfer). He comes off now as a sort of sad man who collects his expressions of regret and dreams of world domination in a small curio, but he's also allegedly working toward paying people back and losing his signature gut, so that's something.

The whole queasy interview – which includes some commentary from Lance Bass – actually made us a little sad, in the end taking us back to the first time we met Pearlman just as his stars were rising.  ("It’s like having a whole bunch of kids," he said at the time. "Nothing pleases me more than to watch girls chase them.") At that point, Pearlman was pushing Aaron Carter, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter's younger brother, and seemed to be doing just fine. Our roommate was doing 'NSync's hair, and we were regularly invited to Pearlman's (and Johnny and Donna Wright's) pool parties with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. LIFE WAS SO FALSELY GOOD. Now that roommate is dead and Pearlman is in prison. Orlando, your empires sure do like to crumble.

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