Pearlman was convicted of fraud for swindling millions of dollars from thousands of investors, many of whom were retirees living in Florida, according to court filings in his case. He launched boy bands NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Take-5, O-Town and others, promoting them with the investors’ money and keeping most of the profits for himself in a $300 million Ponzi scheme. All but one of the boy bands he launched sued Pearlman. Much of the restitution was unpaid when he died, and the lawsuits were never resolved, leaving the victims without closure.
Pearlman’s story originally aired in a two-hour special of 20/20 Friday, December 13, 2019 in its episode, “The Hitman: From Pop to Prison.” The episode is airing again tonight, Friday July 3, 2020, at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Here’s what you need to know:
Members of Lou Pearlman’s Boy Bands Expressed Conflicting Emotions When the Mogul Died
I hope he found some peace. God bless and RIP, Lou Pearlman.
— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) August 21, 2016
Lance Bass and Chris Kirpatrick, former members of *NSYNC, told ABC 20/20 they experienced a slew of conflicting emotions when Lou Pearlman died. Pearlman, the manager of *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and other boy bands, was a mogul in the music industry. He was known for bringing Bass and other boy band members to fame, even while keeping most of their earnings and duping investors. Most of his investors were retirees in Florida.
Pearlman also faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Those sexual misconduct allegations were first detailed in a 2007 Vanity Fair article. Pearlman had denied the allegations.
Bass said on 20/20 he credits Pearlman for his career, despite the fraud that funded it.
“There’s so many life lessons that you learn from everyone else’s mistakes – from your mistakes,” Bass said. “He helped start my career. He funded it… I don’t know where I’d be without him. So you have to give him that credit.”
Many of the band members sent out social media posts after learning of Pearlman’s death, which reflected their conflicting emotions.
“He might not have been a stand up businessman, but I wouldn’t be doing what I love today without his influence,” Bass wrote in a tweet the day after Pearlman’s death.
“I hope he found some peace,” Justin Timberlake wrote on Twitter August 21, 2016. “God bless and RIP, Lou Pearlman.”
“Mixed emotions right now, but RIP Lou Pearlman,” Kirkpatrick wrote on Twitter the day of Pearlman’s death.
NSYNC’s Lawsuit Filed Against Pearlman Was Unresolved After He Died in Federal Prison at Age 62
— 20/20 (@ABC2020) July 3, 2020
Lou Pearlman’s death at age 62 in federal prison left lawsuits filed against him unresolved. NSYNC and other boy bands the mogul managed, including the Backstreet Boys and O-Town, filed lawsuits against Pearlman, saying he pocketed much of their earnings and left them with small payouts. Bass told 20/20 Pearlman’s death in 2016 meant none of the victims in the $300 million Ponzi scheme received closure.
“I was so confused on exactly how to feel,” Bass said. “I’m like, ‘How could you die right now when we don’t have this closure?”
Kirkpatrick expressed similar mixed emotions on 20/20.
“The minute…you’d start to cry, you’d start to laugh,” Kirkpatrick said. “And the minute you’d start to laugh, you’d start to get angry, and the minute I was angry, I started to feel bad for the whole thing that happened. It was the most confusing moment probably that I’ve ever had. I know that a lot of the other guys are bitter. I understand that because like I said, it’s so many emotions. But…I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him… and it sucks.”
Pearlman told NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys he would buy them houses, and they could quit their jobs, according to USA Today. But their paychecks did not even reach minimum wage. Bass recalled opening his first paycheck after two years of touring and promotions.
“I open up the envelope, I see the check, and oh, my gosh, my heart sunk,” Bass said. “I couldn’t believe the number I was looking at. The check was $10,000. And not to sound ungrateful … but when you compare it to how many hours we had put into this group for years, it didn’t even touch minimum wage. At all.”