Alberto Vilar, arts patron convicted of fraud, dies at age 80

Alberto W. Vilar, an opera-loving fund manager who used his fortune to become a notorious patron but fell from grace when he reneged on his promises and was ultimately jailed for defrauding clients, is died Saturday at his home in Reines. He was 80 years old.

Her sister and only immediate survivor, Carole Vilar Williams, said the cause was a heart attack.

Mr Vilar built his fortune – once estimated at nearly $ 1 billion by Forbes magazine – through Amerindo Investment Advisors, a company he co-founded that focused on biotech stocks and of technology. He used those riches to embark on a campaign of generosity in the 1990s and early 2000s, donating – or pledging to donate – more than $ 200 million to arts organizations.

For his $ 25 million pledge to found the Metropolitan Opera in 1998, Mr. Vilar’s name was added to his third Grand Tier. (He also served on the Met’s board of directors.) For his pledge of $ 18 million to the Royal Opera House in London in 1999, his Floral Hall became the Vilar Floral Hall. For its pledge of $ 50 million to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington in 2001, the center planned to fund annual visits to the Kirov Ballet and Opera and to establish the Vilar Institute for Arts Management.

“He wasn’t… how can I put it?” – calm about her gifts, “Beverly Sills, soprano and former Met president, told the New York Times in 2005.” I think it was a jerk to the rest of the board, so does it. that he wanted more attention.

But Mr Vilar defended his propensity to trade donations for naming rights, telling The Times in 2000: “When you have your name on a building, it says, ‘Here is a world class person giving money. money and he chose us ”. ‘Isn’t that a message? “

His time as a modern Medici, however, only lasted as long as the tech market continued to thrive. In 1999, its Amerindo Technology Fund posted a return of 249 percent. But the fund’s return fell 64.8% in 2000, 50.8% in 2001 and 31% in 2002. It began to default on its commitments, like the one in 1998 at the Met, others at the operas in Washington and Los Angeles and another at the Chicago Lyric Opera.

Many of her recipients, frustrated that the checks never arrived, removed her name from places of honor, a rare and humbling event in the distinguished world of artistic philanthropy. No more metal letters a foot high on a Met’s Grand Tier wall. Menu covers bearing his name in the Grand Tier restaurant were thrown away. “Vilar” has been removed from the Floral Hall in Covent Garden. He only paid a fraction of his promised Kennedy Center donation.

It all ended for Mr. Vilar in May 2005, when he was arrested and subsequently charged with federal fraud and money laundering charges centered on the misuse of millions of dollars invested in Amerindo by several clients. According to the indictment, Mr Vilar told a client, Lily Cates, in 2002 that his $ 5 million was to be invested in a government-backed fund intended to attract venture capital to small businesses.

But he never received government approval for the fund and deposited Ms. Cates’ money into the brokerage account of an Amerindo entity in Panama. Soon, $ 1 million of the money was transferred to Mr. Vilar’s account at Chase Manhattan Bank. He quickly used the money to honor promises made to his alma mater, Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, and the American Academy in Berlin, and to pay bills for a catering and repair service. dishwasher.

Another $ 3.1 million was transferred from the Panama account to a financial institution in Luxembourg. The complaint stated that Mr. Vilar then funneled Ms. Cates’ latest investment into personal and overseas accounts.

Before his trial began in 2008, Mr Vilar said the government would not be able to prove his thesis.

“She made millions with the business and I had full permission to invest her money,” he told The Times, referring to Ms. Cates, the mother of actress Phoebe Cates. He said she later had “a bee in her bonnet about something” and asked for her money back.

“The next thing I know,” he added, “she’s filing a complaint for stealing his money.”

Prosecutors argued that Amerindo gambled with clients’ money in volatile tech stocks instead of the safe investments they were promised. A jury found Mr Vilar guilty on all 12 charges he faced. She admitted her former partner in Amerindo, Gary A. Tanaka, guilty of three counts.

In 2010, Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan sentenced Mr. Vilar to nine years in prison.

Albert William Vilar Jr. was born on October 4, 1940 in East Orange, NJ (not Havana, as he sometimes claims). Albert Sr. was a Cuban-born executive of a sugar company that had offices in Manhattan and Puerto Rico. His mother, Margaret (Walsh) Vilar, was a housewife.

Mr Vilar told The New Yorker in 2006 that he and his family moved to Puerto Rico when they were 7 and attended elementary and high school there. He refused to say that he had lived in Cuba and that his family fled after Fidel Castro came to power.

As a child, Albert Jr. (who added an “o” to his first name during his business career) was fascinated by classical music, but his dreams as a conductor were discouraged by his father, he said. declared. He studied economics at Washington & Jefferson. After two years in the military, he worked at Citibank and Boston Company, an investment management firm, then as a fund manager in Kuwait.

He and Mr. Tanaka started Amerindo in the 1980s. At its peak, the company managed up to $ 10 billion for a wide range of clients.

Mr. Vilar’s wealth gave him an opulent lifestyle. He owned several homes, including a luxurious duplex condominium on the 25th floor in United Nations Square overlooking the East River. There was a Steinway grand piano, a bronze statue of the child Mozart with a violin, miniature facsimiles of the Met’s crystal chandeliers hanging above his dining table, and frescoes that were copies of rococo paintings from the Mozarteum concert hall in Salzburg. He said he planned to build a 70-seat auditorium for musical performances on the lower level.

Mr. Vilar was proud of his front row seat at the Met – A101. And he gave substantial amounts. While his funds were still reaping large profits, he donated $ 11.8 million to the Met between 1990 and 2002, largely to pay for productions of “Cosi fan tutte”, “Fidelio”, “La Traviata “,” Le Nozze di Figaro “and” La Cenerentola.

He lost an appeal of his conviction in 2013. The following year, Judge Sullivan added a year to his sentence, claiming that Mr. Vilar and Mr. Tanaka had taken steps to prevent victims of his crimes from being reimbursed.

After his release from prison in 2018, Mr Vilar was living on social security in his apartment in Queens. His sister said he wrote his autobiography.

His lawyer, Vivian Shevitz, said Mr Vilar had hoped the government would release the frozen Amerindo funds so he could collect a pension.

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