Actress Phoebe Cates' mother testifies

October 17, 2008 5:37:14 PM PDT
The mother of actress Phoebe Cates played the role of star witness Friday in the fraud trial of philanthropist Alberto Vilar. Lily Cates testified that she was unable to recover any of the $5 million that she invested with Vilar's investment company in 2002.

Cates said her troubles trying to get the money back spoiled a two-decade-old investment relationship between herself and Vilar that otherwise had been quite lucrative.

The 70-year-old former model said an initial investment of less than $2 million eventually grew to nearly $18.5 million by 2000.

She said she received millions of dollars in payouts over the years but she doesn't know how many.

Cates, born in Shanghai, China, moved in 1951 to the United States, where she grew up in Manor, Calif. before launching a modeling career and eventually marrying Joseph Cates, a producer of television and theater shows. After they divorced in 1986, Cates began making decisions about her own investments.

She said she took control of her money away from an accountant after he invested $10,000 in a Broadway production without telling her. A neighbor recommended Vilar handle her money.

In its questioning of Cates, the government highlighted a $5 million investment she made in 2002 with Vilar in which she said he promised huge returns on her money in a new partnership venture.

"He said the interest you are getting is peanuts compared to what we will make," she said.

She said he also promised she would receive $250,000 every quarter, but the money did not come and she enlisted others to try to recover her money.

The $5 million investment is a central part of a case in which prosecutors accused Vilar of lying to investors as he gambled on risky technology stocks with his investment company, Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc.

Prosecutors say Vilar spent $500,000 of Cates' $5 million to catch up on a pledge for donations to his alma mater, Washington & Jefferson College.

They said said another $650,000 of Cates' investment was spent on Amerindo expenses and $3 million was used to pay back another investor who demanded her money.

Vilar is charged with conspiracy to commit securities, mail, wire and investment adviser fraud and money laundering. If convicted, he could face more than 10 years in prison.

Vilar has pleaded innocent.

His lawyers have pointed to the millions of dollars Cates made through his investments as proof that he always did the best for his clients.

They say Amerindo was ranked first among 7,500 investment companies in the 1980s for its performance and second in the 1990s.

Among its clients were the Los Angeles police and fire departments, the Chicago police department, Cornell University and large corporations.


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