NASHVILLE — Teen country star LeAnn Rimes is suing her father, Wilbur C. Rimes, and former co-manager Lyle Walker, alleging the two swindled at least $7 million from the singer during the past five years.
"This is not the first time somebody has allowed his selfish interests to get in the way of the best interest of the children," Tom Rhodus, one of LeAnn Rimes' attorneys, said. "It's not right just because it happens frequently."
In a lawsuit filed May 2 in the Dallas County District Court, Rimes claims that the two men appropriated up to 30 percent of her income at times by duplicating and augmenting management/producer fees and practicing improper business tactics through ventures with a transportation company and a life-insurance agent — Walker's son Layne Walker. The suit alleges that the defendants floated themselves no-interest loans through the company formed in 1995 to represent the plaintiff, LeAnn Rimes Entertainment Inc.
The young singer is requesting an unspecified amount in compensation, because the lawsuit alleges that the exact amount absconded is unknown.
Belinda Rimes filed the lawsuit on her daughter's behalf (Rimes, 17, is still a minor) after hiring accountants last fall to investigate the business practices of the defendants. The lawsuit alleges that, from 1996 to 1999, Wilbur Rimes and Lyle Walker claimed royalty payments in excess of $8 million, more than $5 million more than Rimes received.
Wilbur and Belinda Rimes are divorced, and Rimes lives with her mother in the Dallas area. Wilbur Rimes solely produced his daughter's recordings and managed her until recently.
Attorneys for both defendants claim that the allegations have no validity. Walker says he is instead owed additional money from LREI. In another prepared statement, his attorney Kent Trent said, "Lyle Walker is the one who has been wronged here. This effort will not be successful. I am confident that in the end justice will prevail, and Mr. Walker will obtain a judgment against LeAnn Rimes Entertainment Inc. for its wrongful actions."
Wilbur Rimes said in a statement that he believes the claims are the product of someone emotionally manipulating his daughter. In a prepared statement, his attorney Brad Rhorer said, "I can imagine no heartbreak greater than that of a father watching helplessly as others, for their own personal gain, alienate the affections of his daughter.
"Wilbur Rimes fathered and raised LeAnn," Rhorer continued. "He taught her how to sing and how to perform. For years, Wilbur sacrificed his own dreams and financed her efforts to develop her talent into a successful career in the music business."
At 13, LeAnn Rimes exploded onto the country scene with her 1996 debut album on Curb Records, Blue, displaying her precocious singing style with traditional material such as the soulful title track (RealAudio excerpt). Her father was the LP's producer. Blue debuted at #1 on the Billboard country albums chart and kept its position for another 18 weeks.
The country sensation broke through to pop in 1997 with her hit "How Do I Live" (RealAudio excerpt), penned by pop tunesmith Diane Warren. The Recording Industry Association of America dubbed her Artist of the Year, beating out Puff Daddy, and she became the first country artist to win the Grammy for Best New Artist.
Rimes then seemed to abandon her country roots, haphazardly throwing together two albums in 1997 — with her father again in the producer slot. You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs featured gospel and reflective songs including "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "The Rose" and "Amazing Grace." The Early Years: Unchained Melody contained the Righteous Brothers classic "Unchained Melody," along with Dolly Parton's evergreen "I Will Always Love You" and the Beatles' "Yesterday."
Rimes' parents also divorced in 1997, and she stayed with her mother. Wilbur Rimes received a fixed percentage of his daughter's earnings in the agreement, but the lawsuit asserts that he increased his share through bloated management and production fees.
In 1998, her fourth release, Sittin' on Top of the World, mixed pop standards such as Prince's "Purple Rain," with new material including "Lookin' Through Your Eyes" (from the movie "Quest for Camelot"), "Nothin' New Under the Moon" and "Commitment" (RealAudio excerpt).
Now, with her 1999 self-titled album, Rimes shares producer credits with her father for the first time and returns to the country fold with covers of '50s and '60s classics from Pasty Cline, Marty Robbins and Hank Williams, with Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" added for good measure.
Her current single, "I Need You" from the TV miniseries "Jesus" is making waves. This week, it's at #9 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Rimes will sweep across the U.S. with a series of summer concerts, beginning with a Fan Fair appearance on June 13. She'll finish her tour in Reno, Nev., on Sept. 29.
A Curb Records spokesman said the record label had no comment about the lawsuit. Representatives for Wilbur and LeAnn Rimes were unavailable for comment.