The Patron

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Beneath the sparkling veneer of New York philanthropy lies a twisted scandal of betrayal, greed, and classical music.
First 10 Pages

Why do people give? Is there inherent greed attached to a donation or can it be selfless? Maybe it depends on the amount. Should someone who gives $200,000 dollars to an opera house have their name in the program? What about a seat on the board? What’s the price for that?

In Manhattan’s most elite circles, they say the dollars you give away can be more powerful than those you earn. This was certainly true for Alberto Vilar, a 60-year-old Wall Street CEO who used his dotcom era fortune to become the most celebrated arts patron of the 20th century. By 1999, he was the top donor at every major opera house from LA to St. Petersburg. He attended 150 opera performances a year and built a concert hall in his apartment.

Then in 2000, the stock market turned. Dotcoms were folding just as quickly as they shot up. Alberto ignored the trends at first, assuming the numbers would climb back up, but when they didn’t, he increased his donations—to a staggering $300 million. Five years later he was in jail.

What happened to this beloved donor? And more importantly, why? The Patron will plunge viewers into the shadows of philanthropy, a world rarely discussed in public let alone on TV. Because beneath the prestige of black ties and charity balls lies a story. Nobody donates $300 million without a reason, especially if it’s not their money to give.