A world out of sync

Mogul Lou Pearlman -- wherever he is -- watches his carefully crafted empire fall apart.

Sitting among glitterati such as Pierce Brosnan, Lionel Richie and Nicolas Cage, a stone-faced Lou Pearlman watched his latest and possibly last moment of triumph play out in a recent German awards show.

His boy band US5 bounded across the stage of a Berlin theater to receive the Goldene Kamera "Pop International Band" award. Singer Jay Kahn interrupted his German-language acceptance speech to declare, "Lou Pearlman, we love you baby!"

It was a shining moment of fame -- the kind his friends say he has chased his entire life. Yet in the seconds that German TV recorded him -- at least as the shots were replayed on the Web site YouTube -- Pearlman didn't even smile.

The night was Feb. 1. A day later, an Orlando judge ordered the seizure of his corporate flagship. Within weeks, the FBI swarmed his Lake Butler mansion and downtown Orlando offices. His career of blimps, charter planes, real estate and pop music was buried under staggering lawsuit claims and criminal probes.

Not long ago, Louis J. Pearlman, 52, was a sought-after Orlando celebrity, known for acts ranging from the Chippendales to the Backstreet Boys.

Now investigators allege the entertainment mogul ran an investment scam on the side that drained the life savings from hundreds of people, taking in more than $317 million. A federal grand jury has convened, though no indictments have been announced.

"It's a devastatingly tragic series of events," said old friend Frank Sicoli of Windermere. "Shocked? Absolutely."

Others, in disbelief, await a different version of events.

"He's done some things that may look completely questionable," said developer Kevin Azzouz, a neighbor. "But I'm not sure what's attributed to him as purposefully fraudulent behavior can actually be attributed to him."

Since the Berlin show, Pearlman's whereabouts are a public mystery. He has reportedly been sighted in Panama, Spain, Israel, Switzerland, Belarus and Russia. A lawyer told a judge Pearlman sent paperwork with a Bali, Indonesia, return address.

"I wonder all the time what's going through his mind," said cousin Jerry Garfunkel, who recalls annual Passover Seders he spent with Lou. "He was nothing like what he's turning out to be."

An ambitious child

Pearlman was born to working-class parents in Queens, N.Y., the only child of Herman and Reenie Pearlman. He was a laundryman. She worked in a pet store.

As a child, Pearlman was friendly, smart and ambitious, always making money, selling lemonade, delivering papers, baby-sitting, giving guitar lessons. Music was his passion. From a young age he idolized cousin Art Garfunkel, who hit the big time with Paul Simon.

Pearlman wanted the same and tried a similar act with friend Bob Curiano.

"Lou had dreams, but he wasn't as musically inclined as he'd like to be," Curiano said. "That became his reality check."

Pearlman's talent was making business contacts, Curiano said, noting Pearlman always had an entourage. "Lou was a likable guy . . .; he was able to get people to rally behind him."

In the mid-1970s, Pearlman got a bachelor's degree from Queens College in New York, studying accounting.

As a boy, he also came to love blimps, watching, from his family's apartment window, the Goodyear blimp tie down at the Flushing Airport. As a teenager, he got a job on the Goodyear blimp crew there. By the late 1970s, he forged a partnership with German dirigible tycoon Theodor Wullenkemper.

In the early 1980s, Pearlman founded his own blimp advertising company, along with a travel agency called Trans Continental Travel Services and a charter airline.

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