In Corrupt America: Pearlman’s Fall, Acts Three & Four

In Corrupt America: Pearlman’s Fall, Acts Three & Four

Read acts one and two here.


As he would prove, Pearlman wasn’t your typical thief. Very few people have created such a large and long running scheme as he did with the creation of Trans Continental Airlines, but no one else has taken the opportunity afforded to him by his thievery and turned it into such a cultural touchstone. Because of Pearlman– and because of his lies and cheating and stealing– we were able to rejoice in the sounds of the boy band boom of the late nineties and early aughts. Supposedly, it all began when New Kids on the Block, one of the first boy bands, chartered one of Pearlman’s planes to travel to a few of their concerts. While talking with Pearlman, the manager of the group let slip that New Kids on the Block was taking in $100 million dollars a year. And with that, Pearlman moved into his next business venture.

He began by starting a record company, fittingly called Trans Continental Records, and held a talent search to fill out his first group. A short time later, Pearlman had assembled none other than the Backstreet Boys. The group had its first show at SeaWorld in 1993, but didn’t see success in America until four years later, after spreading to Europe first and gaining a massive following there. After the Backstreet Boys came ‘NSYNC and many other second-tier groups who helped Trans Con Records and Pearlman become a juggernaut.

Considering how criminal Pearlman’s scheme was, that the mother of Nick Carter, one of the five members of the Backstreet Boys, would say, "The financial scandal is the least of his injustices" forces you to pause and think about how awful this man truly must have been. Numerous accounts of exceedingly inappropriate behavior exist from Pearlman’s time in the music business, from reaching under tables to grab legs, to swan diving while wearing only a towel into a bed where two young boys were sleeping. But not even this period, where Pearlman was actually raking in half-legitimate millions, was free from his thieving tendencies. Soon after the meteoric rise of the Backstreet Boys, members of the band began suing their “Big Poppa” (this is what he asked people to call him) for withholding cash. During discovery in the first trial against him, lawyers discovered that he was paying himself as the sixth member of the band.


The cracks continued to spread. More and more lawsuits from the music side of his life began to pop up, just as Trans Con began to crumble. In 2004, one of Pearlman’s biggest investors passed away, and when his family discovered that the record mogul owed them $14 million and Pearlman refused to pay most of it, the family filed suit.

With everything he built set to fall, Pearlman seemingly got desperate. In order to dismiss the case, Pearlman brought up a “forbearance letter,” supposedly written by the deceased investor detailing that if Pearlman didn’t want to repay the loan, he wouldn’t have to. When the family’s lawyer noticed something funky in the signature (this could not have been the only funky thing), he compared it with another document signed by Pearlman, and the signatures were exactly the same. Exactly the same. From there it was only a hop, skip and a jump to discovering that nearly all of Pearlman’s business was fabricated.

Like all good criminals, Pearlman fled. His final stop would be Bali in 2007, where not only did a fellow guest recognize him and turn him in to the FBI, but he also checked into the hotel as “A. Incognito Johnson.” This, and the many ridiculous ploys Pearlman used in his time as a criminal, not only reflect poorly on him, but also on the unsuspecting (and should-have-been-suspecting) Americans he stole from. A little deeper digging into his affairs might have sooner- produced the false accounting firm that certified all his documents, or even just the fact that he didn’t bother to change the forged signature on his investor’s forbearance letter. The fault here cannot completely be on Pearlman because his tactics just weren’t good enough to allow him to run one of the longest ponzi schemes in the country. Some of it, sadly, has to be on the gullible investors.

In many ways, Pearlman’s rise and fall aligns well with a traditional tragedy structure, but, in many ways, it is also far, far sadder.