He loved opera and charitable donating, but Alberto Vilar ‘s image as a wealthy benefactor and arts lover took a downward turn with his jailing for fraud this weekend.

Alberto Vilar, who built a fortune after arriving in America as a refugee from the Cuban revolution, loved the opera more than anything. And he loved giving his money away almost as much.

The investor Alberto Vilar in his East Side apartment. He is charged with defrauding a client of $5 million.

Mr. Vilar, a wealthy investor, became a legendary benefactor, donating hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it to opera houses and orchestras. His name was linked with those of Daniel Barenboim, Lorin Maazel and Plácido Domingo. But in recent years, some of his pledges went unfulfilled and his reputation was tarnished.

Now Mr. Vilar’s generosity has helped get him into real trouble.

This weekend Mr. Vilar is in jail, charged with defrauding a client of $5 million and using some of the money to make good on his charitable promises, according to a complaint unsealed yesterday in United States District Court in Manhattan.

Federal authorities accuse him of putting the money in an account he used as a “personal piggy bank” and spending more than $700,000 of it on the gifts that made him beloved in nonprofit boardrooms around the world.

He also used it to pay a caterer and fix the dishwasher in his apartment, according to the complaint. Mr. Vilar resides in an 11,000-square-foot, 30-room apartment at 860 United Nations Plaza that is filled with art.

He was arrested on Thursday night at Newark Liberty International Airport while returning from an investment conference in Las Vegas, said Megan Gaffney, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office. He appeared in United States District Court yesterday afternoon and was ordered jailed until a bail hearing on Tuesday.

Mr. Vilar’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, said in an interview that he denied any wrongdoing. “It’s just not true,” she said. “We think that it will be cleared up.”

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