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Man pleads to Lesser Crime in Blackmail Case

In return, he is assisting a state probe into Lou Pearlman's Web site business

A man convicted of blackmailing Orlando pop-music impresario Lou Pearlman is helping state officials investigate his intended victim's business empire.

Robert Christopher Fizia received a year in federal prison on Tuesday as a reward for assisting a state attorney general's probe of Pearlman's Wilhelmina Scouting Network.

He faced a felony conviction and nearly three years in prison until being allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of blackmail.

"We've interviewed him on several occasions, and he provided us with some material," said state Assistant Attorney General Jackie Dowd, who is heading the Pearlman probe. "We've been in negotiation with the company and hope to resolve [the investigation] through a settlement," she said Tuesday.

At the sentencing before U.S. Magistrate James G. Glazebrook, the prosecutor and defense lawyer both said Fizia, 28, of Orlando, had been threatened as a result of cooperating with authorities. Neither said who made the threats.

The state investigation of Pearlman's modeling and casting agency Web site began when more than 600 aspiring models filed complaints of unfair and deceptive labor practices after paying sign-up fees of about $995, according to court records.

Pearlman, part-owner of Church Street Station in downtown Orlando, drew national recognition in the 1990s by promoting the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync bands.

Pearlman's lawyer, Mark NeJame of Orlando, did not return a message requesting comment.

Fizia, who previously worked as a salesman for the modeling agency under a previous corporate name, was arrested in March.

He had threatened to release damaging information about the company, Trans-Continental Talent, if he was not paid $225,000, according to federal court records in Orlando.

A sample of the information included public record about the arrest and conviction of a Pearlman aide, Alec DeFrawy, for bank fraud and wire fraud.

"The Attorney General's Office and the Press would love to have this information," Fizia wrote in an anonymous note delivered March 5. "They will receive a copy of this file within the next 72 hours if you do not comply with my requests."

The FBI arrested Fizia the next day in a men's room at the Florida Mall when he took delivery of a duffel bag that was supposed to contain the payoff.

Fizia was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Ambrose and was represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Fritz Scheller. No date has been set for Fizia to turn himself into the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Copyright © 2003, Orlando Sentinel

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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