Alberto Vilar remembered as arts patron in Vail area, disgraced investor
Performing arts center in Beaver Creek still bears name of convicted money manager
A final twist in a drama-filled life worthy of an opera: Alberto Vilar died Sept. 4 at his home in Queens, New York City, at the age of 80, just one week before the Metropolitan Opera house he loved would reopen after an 18-month closure, the longest in its 138-year history.
In covering Saturday’s reopening, Associated Press writer Ronald Blum described the event as “a night to remember those who perished,” as it was “in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks but in fact marked much more.”
The Met performers played their home venue “for the first time since hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including Met violist Vincent Lionti, assistant conductor Joel Revzen and chorister Antoine Hodge,” Blum said. “It also marked the first performance in the house since the death of conductor James Levine, the Met’s towering figure of the last half-century.”
Not mentioned was Vilar, a former Metropolitan Opera board member with a front-row seat, whose name was removed from the grand tier of the Met in 2003 after the opera said he failed to meet funding commitments.
In Vail, Vilar’s name was removed from the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater as Vilar did not pay $1.5 million of the $3.5 million he pledged to the Vail Valley Foundation for the $10 million remodeling of the structure. Vilar’s $2 million donation made him the single largest contributor to the project, but the foundation was forced to borrow $1.5 million to complete the remodeling, the Vail Daily reported in 2005.
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But the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek still bears Vilar’s name as “the gifts Mr. Vilar gave to our venue, in exchange for naming rights, were paid in full, and not tied to Mr. Vilar’s separate and unrelated legal concerns,” said Mike Imhof, the president of the Vail Valley Foundation.
“We have recently been informed of the passing of Alberto Vilar, and we extend our condolences to his family,” Imhof said. “The Vilar Performing Arts Center is grateful for the opportunity to bring world-class entertainment to Beaver Creek year after year, thanks to incredible support from this community.”
Funding commitments are of paramount importance in the world of opera, as the grandiose performances enjoyed by audiences would not exist without patrons like Vilar and the money they pledge.
In the 2010 book “The Management of Opera” by Philippe Agid and Jean-Claude Tarondeau, it is noted that opera houses are “incapable, in both Europe and the USA, of generating sufficient income from the sale of tickets and other products to cover their operating costs.”
Therefore, additional funding is needed, as the box office only produces an average of 36% of the total income of opera houses in the U.S. (and only half of that in Europe), Agid and Tarondeau note.
In Europe, public funding covers much of the difference, while in the United States, it’s private donations that make up the majority of the discrepancy required to balance the opera budgets, which, in the case of the Met, reach levels in the hundreds of millions and employ “close to 3,000 people,” as reported by Blum in his coverage of the Met’s reopening. On Saturday, there were more than 200 performers onstage.
Vilar was arrested in May 2005 for misdeeds in his use of client funds at his investment firm Amerindo Advisors; Vilar was found guilty on 12 counts and his former partner, Gary A. Tanaka, was found guilty on three counts. Vilar served eight years of a 10-year prison sentence for securities fraud and was released in 2018.
Vilar, in 2018, told the Vail Daily that everyone who was a victim in the fraud which landed him in jail had been “paid back in full.”
“And they made huge returns,” Vilar added. “That’s the ‘Catch 22’ of the whole case.”
In 2013, Vilar lost an appeal of his conviction and a judge said he had taken actions to prevent his former clients from being repaid. While awaiting resentencing, momentarily free on bail, Vilar was able to convince a judge to add two-and-a-half hours to his curfew to attend the Met’s production of “Eugene Onegin.” His lawyer, Vivian Shevitz, argued successfully that Vilar should be granted the curfew extension as he had been “offered free tickets to a sold-out opera this Saturday night by the conductor, his original bail signer Valery Gergiev.”
During his trial and imprisonment, Vilar — who was estimated to be worth $1 billion at one point and was called “buck for buck, the biggest benefactor in musical history” by an industry observer writing for the the Telegraph newspaper — also saw his name removed from the Washington Opera’s Young Artists program, the Kennedy Center’s Arts Management Fellowship program and the Royal Opera House in London.
Vilar’s only immediate survivor, his sister Carole Vilar Williams, told The New York Times that her brother died of a heart attack. He was born Oct. 4, 1940, in East Orange, N.J., “not Havana, as he sometimes claimed,” the Times reports.
In the Times obituary of Vilar, published Sept. 8, Williams said Vilar had been writing his autobiography while holding out hope that the government would release frozen monies related to the case.
“We think it belongs to us. They disagree,” Vilar told the Vail Daily in 2018, saying stocks seized from his former company were worth three times the $22 million in fraud alleged by federal prosecutors.
In July, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission denied former Bear Stearns employee Eugene Ross a monetary “whistleblower award” via the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010 for discovering the fraud.
Ross, “in the process of voluntarily cooperating with government prosecutors and regulatory agencies in the criminal and civil actions against Amerindo, lost his job at Bear Stearns, which strongly discouraged his participation in the legal reckoning that followed, cut his pay, took away his sales team, and subjected him to unchecked harassment and retaliation,” writes Leah McGrath Goodman, with Institutional Investor magazine.
After leaving Bear Stearns, Ross was “forced to sell his home to cover mounting legal bills that eventually bankrupted him,” Goodman said. “Yet he continued to provide evidence, documents and testimony as a star witness in the 2008 criminal case that put Vilar and Tanaka behind bars.”
Ross could have qualified for millions under the whistleblower award, but “effectively disqualified himself,” Goodman said, “because Ross alerted his client and employer to the fraud immediately,” and the Dodd-Frank reform had not yet been passed.
Also in July, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard Sullivan held a hearing on the government’s bid to seize the $66.7 million Vilar felt belonged to Amerindo.
“Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have asked the judge to deny petitions by former clients of Vilar’s now-defunct Amerindo Investment Advisers Inc. who assert rights to the funds,” Reuters reported.