As a result of the revelations, the group also faces class-action suits filed by disgruntled fans. An Oakland fan claims in an Alameda County Superior Court suit filed Monday that the duo and their record company of defrauded consumers "out of tens of millions of dollars." In San Diego, attorney Bill Lerach, an attorney who specializes in class-action lawsuits on behalf of disgruntled shareholders of large corporations, on Monday filed suit in Superior Court on behalf of two young Milli Vanilli fans in San Diego and Michigan. The class-action lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages for fans who purchased the group's records and attended their concerts.
The Milli Vanilli saga begins on New Year's Day in 1988 when techno-whiz producer Frank Farian invited Pilatus and Morvan to his Frankfurt studio to listen to a demo of a new song he produced called "Girl You Know It's True."
Pilatus and Morvan had developed a reputation as a sharp-dressing dance duo on the Munich club and fashion-show circuit. The two knew Farian to be one of Germany's most successful pop producers and hoped to contribute some background vocals to his upcoming projects. Pilatus said Farian had heard that they were "two guys who knew how to look right."
"We got a call to come to his studio and we said, 'All right that's it,' " Pilatus recalled. "We were just dumb little kids, so we said, 'Let's go.' When we got to the studio, 'Girl You Know It's True' was just a demo and he asked us our opinion of it and if we could sing it and we said, 'Yeah, we could sing it.' And he said, 'Oh beautiful, I believe it, but next week we have shows to do, so don't worry, I'll make you into a millionaire.' "
Farian has declined to discuss his relations with Pilatus and Morvan outside of his press conference last week in Germany and some written responses to questions put to him by The Times by fax.
Farian's last U.S. success was in the mid-'70s, when he created the million-selling disco act Boney M. Farian sang solo on Boney M.'s first album, but after the record became a hit he hired four models from the West Indies to front the touring band.
He saw an opportunity to repeat that successful formula in Pilatus and Morvan.
Morvan, now 24, was born in the Caribbean island of Gaudeloupe and raised in Paris. Son of a German mother and American soldier, Pilatus, also 24, was adopted by a German couple and raised in Germany.
"We lived in the (housing) projects. We had no money. We wanted to be stars, that was our main reasons," Pilatus told Tuesday's packed news conference.
Though he dabbled in modeling and deejaying, Pilatus' specialty was break-dancing. He was good enough to get invited to an international competition in 1984 in New York. During a short trip to Los Angeles that year he met Morvan, who was in town for a dance seminar at a disco. A former gymnast who injured a vertebra in a 1983 trampoline accident, Morvan took up dancing as therapy and turned into a club-crawling dance master.
That Los Angeles meeting set the stage for the pair to hook up again in Munich, where they decided to work together as background singers. After adopting the name Milli Vanilli--which they say means \o7 positive energy \f7 in Turkish--the pair recorded an album for a small German label that sold just a few thousand records.
The contract Pilatus and Morvan signed with Farian states that they were to perform on recordings and that Farian was obligated to record at least 10 songs per year with them. It is dated Jan. 1, 1988.
The final mix of "Girl" was finished by studio singers in March and April. By May, Pilatus and Morvan were in the middle of a non-stop promotion blitz through Spain, France and Italy, which lasted until September.
Immediately after the single became successful in Germany, singer Charles Shaw--a Dallas native studio singer who recorded the soft rap on the song--began telling the European media he was the real rapper.
Trying to avoid rumors in the German press over the lip-sync ruse, Rob and Fab left Munich and moved to London.
"All of a sudden it was like another world," Morvan said. "Tension all the time. You want to tell somebody but you can't. When you realize what you've done, it hits you like a hammer."
During one live radio interview in London, the show's host demanded that they sing on the air to prove it was them.
"The rumors were heavy right from the start," Pilatus said. "We would ask Frank when are we going to be allowed to give some input and he would say, 'Yeah, yeah, but right now we need you to go out and do promotion. Of course, you'll get to do it, just work with us.' That's how he strung us along."
Farian released the second single "Baby Don't Forget My Number" and asked the duo to forge on. Carsten Heyne, former BMG marketing director and now the duo's manager, said Farian and BMG attempted to stop Pilatus and Morvan from seeking the advice of a manager, lawyer or agent.