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Tainted Gift at Washington

May 31, 2005

Alberto Vilar is a trustee of Washington & Jefferson College and one of its most significant donors, having provided millions for various projects, such as the Vilar Center for Technology.

On Friday, college officials were stunned to learn that Vilar, who runs an investment company, had been arrested by federal authorities on charges that he had defrauded a client of $5 million, in part so he could fulfill pledges he had made to various nonprofit groups, including Washington & Jefferson, which reportedly received a half-million dollars from the funds in question. Vilar's lawyer told reporters over the weekend that the charges were false and that he would be cleared.

Vilar is also a major donor to many arts organizations, although some have reported that he has not been able to make timely progress on his pledges in recent years.

Lynn Barger, executive director of external relations at Washington & Jefferson, said that officials there were "taken by surprise" by the reports about Vilar."We have no information that would lead us to believe that we have received stolen funds, nor have we been contacted by law enforcement officials. If and when that should occur, we will cooperate completely," she said.

There have been numerous cases in which colleges have found themselves embarrassed when donors have been caught up in cases of corporate crime. But the Washington & Jefferson case is one of a smaller number of cases where the alleged crime itself involved a gift to the college -- although in none of those cases has there been a suggestion that a college knowingly accepted stolen property.

In 2001, for example, the University of Oregon Foundation returned $850,000 (and the university renamed a building that has been linked to the gift) after a court found that a donor accused of investment fraud had given money that was not his.

 

 

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