It was the roaring nineties. The economy was on an upswing. America was spending its “peace dividend” after years of runaway defense spending. And in Orlando, the advent of new theme parks, such as Universal Studio which opened in 1990, turned the Disney-centric metropolitan area into an entertainment mecca. Orlando not only attracted families with children but also those who prey on children and underage teens.
One such low-life who appeared on the scene in Orlando was con-artist businessman Lou Pearlman. The cousin of singer Art Garfunkel had a keen interest in aviation. Pearlman moved his firm, Airship International, from New York City to Orlando and leased the company’s advertising blimps to various companies, including Sea World, which also maintained a theme park in Orlando.
Pearlman’s company was nothing more than a “pump and dump” penny stock outfit. Pearlman, who was attracted to underage teen boys, decided to invest his funny money into “boy bands” such as the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, LFO, Take 5, and others. Pearlman demanded sex from many of the underage teen singers but when it came to paying them, he kept most of the proceeds earned by the overnight successes on their tours.
According to ex-boy band members, Pearlman, an extremely obese New York Jewish businessman with powerful friends on Wall Street, and who liked to be called “Big Poppa,” would often jump in bed with the boy band members wearing only a towel and engage in a wrestling match.
And here is where the always-suspect Wikipedia comes into play in defending pedophiles such as Pearlman. The biography for Pearlman soft-peddles the pedophilia allegations, calling them alleged and quoting a couple of band members clearing Pearlman of any sexual impropriety. However, LFO lead singer Rich Cronin publicly stated on the Howard Stern radio show that Pearlman was a pederast and the common question asked by band members to new recruits was whether they had “blown Big Poppa” yet.
Scott Mooney, an aspiring teen performer who worked as Pearlman’s assistant, told Vanity Fair what it took for him to get Big Poppa’s assent to become a band member. Mooney said that Pearlman opened up his terry cloth bathrobe revealing his penis and said, “You’re a smart boy. Figure it out.”
Soon, over 2000 complaints were filed against Pearlman’s main company, Fashion Rock, LLC with then-Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist. Pearlman’s skanky attorneys filed counter-suits against some individuals, including ex-boy band members defrauded by Big Poppa, and other firms that sued Fashion Rock. Justin Timberlake, who sang with NSYNC, said of Pearlman, ““Looking back at those days… I was being monetarily raped by a Svengali.”
The problem for Pearlman’s sexual victims was that Big Poppa had built up a huge network of powerful friends and supporters on Wall Street. They were oblivious to his pump and dump scam, and the business and political centers of power in Orlando and the state of Florida.
Attorney General Crist, who later became Governor as a Republican and is now running for the same office as a Democrat, failed to act promptly on allegations of Pearlman’s conduct with his underage male performers.
On July 12, 2008, WMR reported that after allegations appeared in the media that Crist, then the Governor, was gay, he moved from his St. Petersburg condominium a male friend who he had known intimately since the young man was 16-years old. Crist moved the young man to an apartment in Orlando. WMR also learned that Crist’s friend had previously been an underage performer at Disney World.
Pearlman was indicted on Ponzi scheme charges involving his Trans Continental Airlines Savings Program, which was used to defraud investors. In reality, Trans Continental Airlines existed only on paper. The airline had only three planes when it advertised a fleet of 400. Even Trans Continental’s accounting firm, Cohen & Siegel of Coral Gables, Florida, which dummied up financial statements for the non-existent airline, turned out to be phony.
Pearlman fled to United States for Indonesia but he was spotted by German tourists, arrested by Indonesian police, and returned to the United States and convicted on five fraud charges. Pearlman was sentenced to a 25-year prison term in 2008 and he is serving out his sentence at the Texarkana Federal Correctional Institution in Texas.
As for Pearlman’s free-wheeling pedophile legacy in Orlando, where he entertained the movers and shakers of the town that Disney built at his $12 million mansion, it should come as no surprise that 35 theme park employees from Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World have been arrested on pedophilia charges ranging from possession of child pornography at home and at work and soliciting sex, on-line, from minors.
Orlando has suffered from a pedophile problem for years but the Orlando area chambers of commerce, the state authorities in Tallahassee, and others who make billions every year from tourist dollars brought into Orlando, have always wanted to look the other way. The Orlando Sentinel even published a letter written by Pearlman defending himself after he was indicted for fraud. The failure to prosecute Lou “Big Poppa” Pearlman for pedophilia was the beginning of Orlando’s problems, but as has been seen with the arrest of 35 Orlando theme park employees for pedophilia, they are not the last.