Lawyers seek relief for ‘broken’ convicted philanthropist


A $100 bill with the picture of Ben Franklin (Nexstar, file)

NEW YORK (AP) — Once worth nearly a billion dollars, opera-loving philanthropist Alberto Vilar is seeking financial relief from what his lawyers describe as a destitute existence following his 2018 release from prison.

Vilar’s lawyers told a Manhattan federal judge in a letter Thursday that Vilar is “a broken individual, penniless, and destitute.” They said he sleeps on a couch in a shared studio apartment and relies on a monthly $2,200 social security check. His attorneys asked that he no longer be required to pay hundreds of dollars monthly toward restitution they claimed was mostly satisfied.

The 80-year-old Vilar, born in New Jersey and of Cuban descent, was once described by Forbes magazine as worth about $950 million before the collapse of technology stocks in 2000 ruined the good fortune of his San Francisco-based investment company, Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc.

Complaints from investors drew the scrutiny of federal prosecutors who said Vilar and a business partner repeatedly lied to clients from 1986 to 2005 by promising safe and steady returns while they squandered millions of dollars on risky bets on technology stocks.

Vilar was sentenced to nine years in prison after his 2008 conviction on charges including conspiracy and investment adviser, mail and wire fraud.

At his sentencing, Vilar was ordered to forfeit over $22 million and pay $21.9 million in restitution and a $25,000 fine. The exact amount still owed to victims of the fraud is unclear.

It was a steep fall for a man whose charity was legendary. He gave as much as $225 million to opera houses and millions more to cultural and medical organizations around the world.

After his 2005 arrest, he could no longer fulfill donation pledges. London’s Royal Opera House removed his name from the building’s atrium, the Metropolitan Opera took his name off its grand tier and the Salzburg Festival in Austria stripped his picture from its programs.

The lawyers wrote that Vilar pays $600 monthly for a Long Island City studio apartment he shares. With ailing legs and other medical issues that restrict his mobility, he rarely leaves his small apartment, they said.

His $2,200 social security check is reduced by hundreds of dollars when 15 percent is automatically subtracted to satisfy the judgments, the attorneys wrote.

Most of the rest of the social security check is absorbed by food, $400 in medical copay expenses, medications and a monthly installment for hearing aids, the lawyers said. They said he owes about $15,000 in medical bills and has stopped taking some medications because he can no longer afford them.

Prosecutors have not yet filed a response to Vilar’s attorneys’ request. Prosecutors declined through a spokesperson to comment.

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