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BILL OF JUSTICE COMES DUE FOR HIGH-ROLLING `TYCOON'

William Aramony had a tycoon's tastes for limousines, first-class travel, expensive entertainment and especially for attractive young women.

But he didn't have a tycoon's income as president of the United Way of America, so he systematically plundered the national charity of nearly $600,000 to pay for all that high living.After seven days of deliberations, a jury Monday convicted Aramony of 25 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Two other former United Way executives, Thomas Merlo and Stephen Paulachak, also were con-vic-ted.

Aramony, whose lawyer argued that brain atrophy made him impulsive and less able to reason, was silent as the verdicts were read, and had no comment as he left the courthouse.

"This verdict sends the message that society won't tolerate individ

uals who are charged with protecting the precious assets of charity diverting those assets for their own personal use," Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows said.

Aramony and Merlo, who was convicted of 17 counts, could get about five years in prison. Paulachak, convicted of eight counts, could get about two years. A judge will also rule on the amount each faces in fines.

The three are free on bond pending a June 14 sentencing hearing. All plan to appeal.

Defense lawyer William Moffitt, who called no defense witnesses, also argued that United Way's board of directors was lax in oversight.

The charity has installed new financial controls and a code of ethics since Aramony's departure.

After the scandal broke in 1991, local chapters withheld voluntary dues, demanding an investigation into the allegations. Donations fell off sharply from $3.1 billion in 1990, but bounced back to $3.05 billion in 1993 and were expected to equal or exceed $3.1 billion in 1994.

The jury studied more than 1,000 documents during deliberations, ranging from income tax forms and accounting ledgers to a letter detailing the 67-year-old executive's affair with Lori Villasor, who was 17 when their four-year romance began in 1986.

Witnesses testified about a New York City apartment purchased with charity money and used for Aramony's trysts with Villasor. The jury also heard about a trip to Egypt, and a gambling jaunt to Las Vegas during which Aramony gave Villasor's younger sister $100 bills to smile at him.

Former employees depicted Ara-mony as an autocratic manager who expected his staff to do personal favors for him and hide his spending excesses.

Juror Alan Hannen, a driver for United Parcel Service, said Vil-la-sor provided the most damaging evidence. "For me, it was all the money that went to Lori for doing very little work," Hannen said.

Villasor testified under immunity that she was paid about $80,000 for more than two years, but performed only "an hour or so" of work.

Aramony's annual salary was $400,000, which Moffitt argued wasn't enough to keep up with the corporate chiefs who made multimillion-dollar donations.