William Aramony, who built the United Way of America into a philanthropic powerhouse before leaving in disgrace and serving six years in prison for fraud, has died. He was 84.
Aramony was the United Way's chief executive from 1970 to 1992. He resigned after using the organization's money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including gifts for a girlfriend who was 17 when they met.
Aramony died Friday at his son's home in Alexandria, Va. He suffered from prostate cancer that had metastasized to bone cancer, said his son Robert.
At the United Way, Aramony built a tangled web of disparate organizations into one of the nation's best-known charitable groups. Revenue at United Way increased from less than $800 million to more than $3 billion during his time at the helm. The now-familiar structure of using United Way to facilitate payroll deductions at charity campaigns run through the workplace blossomed under Aramony's guidance. The United Way's high-profile partnership with the National Football League also took hold under Aramony.
But the charity's successes were eclipsed by the scandal surrounding Aramony's spending habits. Prosecutors argued that Aramony's spending on personal luxuries with United Way funds constituted a fraud on donors who expected their money would go to charity.
At his federal trial in 1995, prosecutors and court officials estimated that he defrauded donors of from $600,000 to $1.2 million over a 10-year period. He was convicted on 23 of 27 counts, including fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy.
Much of the case against Aramony concerned his four-year affair with Lori Villasor. Aramony, who was married at the time, took the teenager on trips, billing her plane tickets and meals as charity expenses.
His defense lawyer argued that Aramony was suffering from a brain trauma, a shrunken frontal lobe that made him increasingly irrational and affected his sexual drive.
He served six years of a seven-year prison sentence.
United Way Worldwide, as the charity is now known, issued a statement offering condolences to Aramony's family.
"Mr. Aramony integrated the network of local United Ways, formed national partnerships and increased contributions," according to the statement. "Since 1992, United Way has undergone major governance and structural changes. In partnership with the Board of Governors, a rigorous new audit, budget and other financial controls were implemented, along with a Code of Ethics, to ensure that the problems associated with former management can never occur again."
Born July 27, 1927, in Jewett City, Conn., Aramony was the son of Lebanese immigrants. He attended Clark University and received a master's degree from Boston College before serving in the Army from 1951 to '53.
Besides his son Robert and two other children from his first marriage that ended in divorce, he is survived by his second wife.