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Vilar out from behind bars

Investment adviser and former Vail Valley resident Alberto Vilar shown here entering Manhattan federal court in 2005, was convicted of bilking $40 million from investors in his San Francisco-based company, Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc.
AP | AP

NEW YORK – Alberto Vilar stood in a Manhattan breeze Wednesday afternoon hailing a cab, his first chance to breathe free air in four years.

“I can only describe it as almost a sense of shock. Four years have gone by and I’m out on the street,” Vilar said during a quick phone call Wednesday afternoon.

Vilar, the financier and philanthropist for whom Beaver Creek’s Vilar Center is named, was released on bail Wednesday afternoon.

“He is relieved to be out, and looks forward to the decision of the Court of Appeals,” said Vivian Shevitz, Vilar’s attorney.

Gary Tanaka, Vilar’s business associate, was released Tuesday.

Friends picked up Vilar from the federal prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was serving a nine-year sentence following his 2008 conviction for securities fraud. They drove him to the Manhattan Federal Courthouse where he filled out the last of the paperwork and, at 4 p.m., was released on a $10 million personal recognizance bond. He said he clearly remembers the time.

Standing on that Manhattan street helped snap into focus what he said he has always known.

“What you come to appreciate is the most important thing in your life, which is your freedom,” Vilar said.

The Vilar Center’s staff and board did not follow so many others and remove his name.

“I think that’s extremely gracious of them,” Vilar said.

Awaiting appeal

He said he expects to stay in New York City for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll play it by ear, but obviously we’ll wait until the appeal works its way through the legal process, hopefully sometime between December and February,” he said.

He says his attorney, Vivian Shevitz, has been “terrific.”

“She has really worked on this case eight to 10 hours a day for the better part of two years. She has really carried the ball.”

The problem with many defense attorneys is that they try to handle too many cases, he said.

“Three weeks before a trial they resemble a college student trying to cram for an exam. This woman has singularly devoted herself. Her work has been so impressive and exemplary,” Vilar said. “She’s the reason I’m out. It’s extremely difficult to get out pending the end of an appeal.”

He’s hopeful about his appeal.

“We’re very encouraged by the appellate court and, fingers crossed, it will be completed by the end of the year,” he said.

Prison life

The federal prison at Fort Dix is the largest prison in the U.S. and the closest to Manhattan. It sits on one of the largest military bases in the country, Vilar said.

The prison holds 5,000 prisoners and 4,500 are locked up in a traditional incarceration compound.

He said he was fortunate enough to be in a camp, not the main prison. His time there wasn’t as horrific as it might have been, but it was still prison.

“The conditions are not terrible, as prison goes, but it’s still prison,” he said.

He said he kept himself busy reading, teaching, and working on his case. His case is complex and he spent large blocks of time writing explanations for his attorneys about how and why things were done in a certain way, he said.

“I’m not a lawyer, thank God, but I’ve learned a lot about the nuances about the law,” he said.

He taught English and Spanish, English as a Second Language to native Spanish speakers, and composition and writing in Spanish.

“I gave one course for which I bought 23 books at my own expense,” he said.

He read up to four books a week – finance, healthcare, technology and the occasional fiction – and is writing one of his own.

“I did a lot of analytical work because I’m putting together a book. I learned a lot about the legal process,” he said.

Rolling wheels of justice

Vilar’s wheels of justice began spinning in May 2005 with his arrest at the Newark, N.J., airport.

“Wheels of justice?!?” he said. “The Department of Justice began to spin me.”

He lost his trial and was remanded to the Manhattan Correctional Complex for 17 months awaiting sentence.

Shevitz, attorney for Vilar and Tanaka, argued last month before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that Vilar should be released on bail and his conviction overturned. Vilar was 69 years old when he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison, after he was convicted of bilking up to $40 million from investors. He used at least part of the money for his philanthropic work, court records say.

Vilar’s attorneys argued that the government froze more than $50 million in 2005 at J.P. Morgan Chase, and there is more than enough money to repay those victims but the government won’t release it.

Vilar had been denied bail because Manhattan Federal Judge Richard Sullivan ruled he was a flight risk. Sullivan also ordered three years of probation, a $25,000 fine and $21.9 million in restitution.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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