During the tech-stock mania of the late 1990s,
seemed to be one of the biggest winners. The cosmopolitan money manager’s homes included a glittering 11,000-square-foot duplex apartment in Manhattan. He was a fixture in the world’s great opera houses and pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to cultural institutions including New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden.
After tech stocks crashed, Mr. Vilar reneged on some of his pledges and struggled to pay even personal expenses. In 2005, federal prosecutors, alleging that he had misused client funds, indicted him on fraud and money-laundering charges in connection with Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc., which he co-founded.
He was convicted in November 2008 and initially sentenced to nine years in prison.
The prosecution froze clients’ accounts at Amerindo. Since then, a receiver has made payments totaling about $68 million, including an inflation adjustment, to reimburse clients. Some smaller claims remain subject to litigation.
Mr. Vilar, who served most of his time at a federal prison in Fort Dix, N.J., died Sept. 4 in the New York borough of Queens. He was 80. His sister, Carole Vilar Williams, said the cause was a heart attack in his sleep at the home of a friend who took him in after his release from prison in 2018.
Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan alleged that Mr. Vilar misappropriated client funds for personal expenses, charitable contributions and Amerindo’s operating expenses. Vivian Shevitz, one of his lawyers, said that plenty of money remained to repay the investors after authorities shut down the company. “For all his foibles, he was a decent guy and he did not steal his clients’ money,” she said.
Albert William Vilar, who later called himself Alberto, was born Oct. 4, 1940, in East Orange, N.J., though he sometimes described himself as a Cuban refugee. His father, who was of Cuban descent, worked for a sugar company.
Mr. Vilar graduated from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., and later received an M.B.A. degree from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. Early in his career, he worked at Citibank and Boston Co., an investment-management firm.
“‘My rich friends laugh at me, because I sit in the same seat every night, in the first row.’”
After leaving Boston Co., he moved to Kuwait to take a job with a money manager. While there, he worked with Gary Tanaka, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate. The two founded Amerindo and moved to London in the early 1980s.
In a 2000 interview with the New York Times, Mr. Vilar said he attended about 100 opera performances a year. He was a regular at the Metropolitan Opera. “My rich friends laugh at me, because I sit in the same seat every night, in the first row,” he said. “A101, that’s my seat. I want to watch the conductor, the pit, the stage. Not only that, I hold court. My friends come up. They know where I am.”
He defended the practice of rewarding donors by naming programs or facilities after them. “I think the single most important reason for recognition is to set an example to other potential donors,” he said. “When you have your name on a building, it says, ‘Here’s a world-class person who is giving money, and he chose us.’ ”
Mr. Vilar also made less splashy gifts. He bought an apartment for one of his housekeepers and paid for the wedding of a daughter of his longtime barber.
Mr. Vilar had no children, his sister said. His two marriages ended in divorce.
“Anyone who has not been through prison does not know how bad it is,” Mr. Vilar said in a 2018 interview with the Vail Daily. He added: “Look at the bull markets I missed. Look at the operas I missed.”
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