Alberto Vilar, a Washington & Jefferson College alumnus and disgraced financier who briefly showered W&J with some of the largesse that came his way during the short-lived tech bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s, died Sept. 4, according to an obituary in The New York Times. He was 80.
A New Jersey native and 1962 graduate of W&J, Vilar’s fortune ballooned to a reported $1 billion when tech stocks seemed to be on a never-ending upward trajectory. An arts enthusiast, Vilar began giving enormous sums of money to arts organizations with much fanfare. He wrote checks to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the Royal Opera House in London and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Vilar also became a benefactor for W&J. He put up the funding for what became known as the Vilar Distinguished Artist Series, which began in 1999 and ran through 2003. It brought an impressive array of musical talent to the campus, such as the opera singer Jessye Norman, the violinist Gidon Kremer and conductor Lorin Maazel. Vilar also put up funding for a technology center on campus that, for a time, bore his name.
In a 1998 interview with The New York Times, Vilar said, “I’m one of those crazy people,” and that music was “the perfect complement to my life.” He said that he had nurtured a deep interest in music as a young man, but his father discouraged him from pursuing a career in the field.
Though his philanthropy allowed him access to the arts world that so enthralled him, Vilar turned out to be a shooting star that burned brightly and flamed out spectacularly. By 2002, after the tech bubble burst, Vilar found himself unable to fulfill many of the pledges that he had made to organizations, and his name started being dropped from menu covers, an atrium and other things on which it was emblazoned. The Vilar Technology Center became simply the Technology Center, a name W&J has maintained.
The bottom truly fell out for Vilar in 2005 when he was arrested for misappropriating client funds. Vilar was charged, and later convicted, with taking $5 million from Lily Cates, the mother of actor Phoebe Cates, that he said would be placed in a small business investment fund. Instead, prosecutors said it was used for personal expenses and to fulfill pledges he had made to various organizations, including W&J. After being found guilty on charges of fraud and money laundering in 2008, Vilar was sentenced to nine years in prison and ordered to pay $22 million in restitution to Cates and other victims.
After his release in 2018, Vilar enjoyed little of the luxury or deference that was once his in abundance. Late last year, the Associated Press reported he was sleeping on a couch in a shared studio apartment, was burdened by $15,000 in unpaid medical bills, and was skipping some medications because he could no longer afford them. In a court filing, Vilar was described as “a broken individual, penniless and destitute.”
The New York Times said Vilar died of a heart attack, and his only survivor was a sister.