Opera buff charged with defrauding clients

Sept. 30, 2008 at 8:51 PM

NEW YORK, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A New York patron of the arts known for his largess to the Metropolitan Opera is on trial, charged with swindling clients of his investment firm.

Alberto Vilar and Gary Tanaka, his partner in Amerindo Investment Advisors, allegedly diverted clients' money to their own purposes, including Vilar's donations to opera companies, and robbed some victims to repay others, the New York Daily News reported.

One of their alleged victims, Lily Cates, is the mother of Phoebe Cates, star of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

In his opening statement Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Naftalis said some of the defendants' techniques were simple. They allegedly included cutting Lily Cates's signature from one document and fixing it to another that authorized a transfer into Vilar's personal account.

Defense attorneys maintain Tanaka and Vilar did not steal and that their clients lost money because of the stock market plunge when the high-tech bubble burst.

Vilar donated $12 million to the Met and a total of $225 million to opera companies around the world. His name once adorned the Met's Grand Tier but has been removed.

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