NY appeals court orders bail for philanthropist

NEW YORK -- An opera-loving philanthropist convicted of a multimillion-dollar fraud will soon be freed from prison on bail after a federal appeals court signaled on Tuesday he might be succeeding in proving his case deserves a second look.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-page order requiring Alberto Vilar and a co-defendant, Gary Alan Tanaka, be released before it issues its opinion on the legality of their convictions.

Attorney Vivian Shevitz, who represents the men on appeal, said she was "very gratified" by the decision.

"It means we have a substantial issue likely to result in reversal," she said.

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors declined to comment.

Vilar, 71, was accused of cheating investors of $40 million through his San Francisco-based company, Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc. He was convicted at trial in November 2008 of conspiracy fraud and has been imprisoned since shortly afterward, serving a nine-year prison sentence. He was projected to be released in September 2016.

Vilar's defense team says he received poor legal help, there was insufficient evidence of certain crimes of which he was accused and the judge at trial didn't instruct the jury properly.

The appeals court, which heard oral arguments in August, instructed a lower court judge to set bail for the men. Tanaka, 69, has two years remaining on his five-year prison term. He was convicted of conspiracy along with securities and investment adviser fraud, but he was acquitted on nine other counts.

The Cuban-born Vilar was described by Forbes magazine as worth about $950 million after he earned hundreds of millions of dollars on investments in the stock boom of the 1990s. He spent some of the money making donations of as much as $225 million to opera houses.

Largely abandoned by his affluent and powerful friends after his arrest, he could do nothing as the Metropolitan Opera took his name off its grand tier, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London removed his surname from its Floral Hall and the Salzburg Festival in Austria stripped his picture from its programs.

Witnesses against Vilar at trial included Lily Cates, the mother of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" actress Phoebe Cates, who said he improperly spent $5 million of her money.