Prosecutors fear W&J alumnus will flee

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The federal government continues to plead with a judge to withdraw bail for a famed arts patron and Washington & Jefferson College graduate who has been convicted of defrauding investors out of $20 million.

Federal prosecutors are worried that Alberto Vilar, convicted last month in federal court in Manhattan of 12 felonies involving fraud and money laundering, will leave the country before he is sentenced March 20.

That's because Mr. Vilar, 68, who was estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion as head of Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc., did not use any personal assets to secure a $10 million bond and because he faces up to 155 years in prison.

Several of his friends pledged property and other assets to secure Mr. Vilar's bond when he was arrested three years ago.

Mr. Vilar was a well-known philanthropist who spent decades crafting an image of himself as a Cuban-born refugee who fled Fidel Castro's regime with his family to become a success in America. But federal prosecutors say he was born in New Jersey and probably never visited Cuba.

They claim it was one of many fabrications fostered over the years by Mr. Vilar, who donated millions to opera groups, medical institutions and colleges, including W&J.

Prosecutors say that Mr. Vilar defrauded client and friend Lily Cates, mother of actress Phoebe Cates, of $5 million and used $540,000 of the proceeds to satisfy a pledge to W&J.

The college had planned to name a new technology center after Mr. Vilar in 1999 when he pledged $15 million to the project, but the center has remained nameless.

If Mr. Vilar hadn't defaulted on the promise, it would have been the largest single donation in the college's 227-year history.

"Mr. Vilar's name was never on the building and it was never dedicated," according to a statement last week from the college. "It is referred to as The Technology Center. W&J respects the privacy of our donors and alumni and will not discuss in detail specific donor information."

Mr. Vilar, a member of the college's board of trustees who received an honorary doctorate in humanities several years ago, also funded the Vilar Distinguished Artist Series, which brought famed conductor Lorin Maazel and singer Susan Graham to the college.

But, as Mr. Vilar was living in places such as London and Kuwait and promising $200 million to organizations, prosecutors said, he was using Ms. Cates' money "as a personal piggy bank to pay personal expenses" and live up to his status as a much-celebrated benefactor of the arts.

Though he did donate millions to organizations over the years, many schools, arts groups and hospitals were left in the lurch when Mr. Vilar's investment business began failing.

He pledged $20 million to the Metropolitan Opera, which removed his name from its grand tier when he paid only about half of the pledge, and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London and the Salzburg Festival expunged his name from their programs and facilities when Mr. Vilar's financial promises failed to materialize.

According to published reports, Mr. Vilar made much of his fortune in technology stocks and often demanded public recognition for his generosity.

Prosecutors said that when the technology bubble burst in 2000, so did Mr. Vilar's empire. Investments that he assured clients, including Ms. Cates, were safe were actually wrapped up in risky technology stocks when they crashed.

That's when Mr. Vilar began looting the accounts of his clients, prosecutors said.

In their filing with federal Judge Richard Sullivan, prosecutors argued that the fact that Mr. Vilar so easily duped and stole from his friends also makes him a flight risk.

For the third time since he was convicted Nov. 19, prosecutors are asking that Mr. Vilar be jailed until his sentencing next year. Judge Sullivan has denied the first two requests.

Last week, famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman told Judge Sullivan that Mr. Vilar was a "devoted" backer of his music school for children, supporting it with a $1 million contribution. Mr. Vilar's lawyers also have noted that he has met all of the conditions of his bail, remaining in his Manhattan apartment and traveling only when allowed.

Mr. Vilar's lawyer has promised to appeal the conviction, as has his business partner, Gary Tanaka, who was convicted on some of the same charges.


Janice Crompton can be reached at jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 724-223-0156.


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