Last taste of freedom?

After breakfast in the coffee shop of a top resort, Pearlman finds himself under arrest.

Published June 16, 2007

Life on the lam was pretty lonely for the gregarious Lou Pearlman, who holed up at a posh resort on the Indonesian island of Bali only to have a fellow guest tip off the FBI.

"I never saw him with someone else, " said Thorsten Iborg, a German computer programmer who was vacationing with his wife at the 5-star Westin Resort at Nusa Dua when he spotted Pearlman.

It was Iborg's e-mail tip, passed along by the Times with his permission, that led the FBI and Indonesian police to capture the Orlando music producer Thursday morning. Arrested on a charge of bank fraud, Pearlman refused to answer questions when he appeared before a judge in Guam on Friday. Another hearing is set for Monday to determine whether he should get a public defender, but he could be sent back to Florida as early as next week to await a grand jury's decision whether to indict him for fraud.

Iborg, 32, said he and his wife were at the beach Sunday when he first noticed Pearlman, who sat alone drinking a cup of coffee at a hotel restaurant overlooking the water.

"I said to my wife, 'Look at him. He looks like the Backstreet Boys' producer.' "

She was skeptical, but Iborg insisted he knew what Pearlman looked like because he had seen him on a German television program about boy bands just a few weeks before.

Bali is known as a vacation spot for the rich and famous, so Iborg said they were on the lookout for celebrities.

Pearlman left Orlando in January as his entertainment empire and investment scheme collapsed. He spent time in Germany, where he was photographed at an awards ceremony Feb. 1 for one of his bands, US 5. Since then, Pearlman sightings had been reported around the globe. One traveler told the Orlando Sentinel he sat next to Pearlman in March on a flight from Denpasar to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Iborg said he and his wife went to the hotel's business center to confirm his hunch by looking at Pearlman photos on the Internet. To their surprise, Pearlman himself was occupying one of the computer stations, checking out music sites and watching YouTube videos.

Research on Pearlman

The couple cut their Web session short because Pearlman sometimes cast a glance at their terminal, but Iborg had seen enough to be convinced. Back in their room, Iborg did more Internet research into Pearlman's legal troubles. He read that Florida officials have accused Pearlman of running one of the largest investment scams in state history. He found the Times' Money Talk blog with its chronicle of Pearlman's downfall and the paper's contact information.

Citing his "bad English, " Iborg said he didn't understand everything he read, and references to millions of dollars made him think a bounty might be available for finding Pearlman. When he found out it wasn't, he said he was happy to pass on the information just the same.

"I hope that most of the money will be found, " he said.

A bankruptcy trustee is still searching for assets that might be used to repay some of the hundreds of millions Pearlman owes investors and other creditors.

The FBI's e-mail response to Iborg's tip led Iborg to believe the agency wasn't very interested. That apparently was a ruse. However, it didn't dampen Iborg's interest in the music mogul. He said he saw Pearlman two more times at the hotel, Wednesday night at a cocktail party the hotel manager threw for guests, and Thursday morning at breakfast.

A photo is taken

Iborg snapped a photo of Pearlman in the hotel coffee shop eating his final meal as a free man. Pearlman had a cloth napkin tucked under his jowls as he sat alone, concentrating on his meal. A teapot was at his right hand. His blue T-shirt appears to be the same one he was wearing when his mug shot was taken the next day in Guam.

Iborg said he and his wife were eating early, around 7 a.m., and had a camera with them Thursday because they had plans for a scuba diving trip. By the time they returned, Pearlman had been whisked away. He'll most likely be spending his 53rd birthday Tuesday in a Guam jail cell.

Iborg said that he does not know what name Pearlman used to register at the high-end resort but that guests were required to show a passport.

"I cannot understand him sitting in the restaurant just waiting to get spotted, " he said.

Iborg, who lives in Ibbenbueren, in northwest Germany, said he is not a fan of boy bands.

"My kind of music is more the grunge thing, " he said.

Helen Huntley can be reached at hhuntley@sptimes.com or 727 893-8230.

Fast Facts:

What happens next for Pearlman

-A hearing is scheduled for Monday in Guam to determine whether he should be given a public defender.

-He could be brought back to Orlando as early as next week.

-A grand jury will decide in the next few weeks whether to indict him on fraud charges.

-The bankruptcy trustee will continue searching for assets to repay creditors.

The tune used to get bank loans

Pearlman set up a fake accounting firm, FBI says. 10A