The key figure in what was the biggest sex scandal in the nonprofit sector until recent allegations at Penn State University has died.
William Aramony, who turned United Way (UW) into the powerhouse fundraising charity that it is today, died of bone cancer associated with prostate cancer Nov. 11 at age 84 in Alexandria, Va.
Aramony was president and CEO of the United Way for 22 years until he resigned in 1992 after an investigation into his expense and travel accounts revealed he’d been using the charity’s resources for luxury travel and lavish gifts on a mistress who was only a few years out of high school.
Aramony met Lori Villasor when she was 17, while he was dating her older sister. He was married at the time but billed her airfare, meals and other gifts as expenses to the charity. Lori Villasor did not return a message seeking comment.
Aramony and two aides were convicted in 1995 of, among other things, conspiracy to defraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, transportation of fraudulently acquired property, engaging in monetary transactions in unlawful activity, filing false tax returns, and aiding in the filing of false tax returns.
He was sentenced to seven years at the Federal Prison Camp at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, near Goldsboro, N.C. He was released in early 2002. It was estimated that he’d misused between $600,000 and $1.2 million during a decade. Several United Ways disaffiliated with the national office and filed name changes.
In a statement, United Way Worldwide said Aramony integrated the network of local United Ways, formed national partnerships and increased contributions from nearly $800 million to more than $3 billion. Since 1992, UW 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,” according to the organization. “United Way organizations have worked vigorously to re-define United Way.”
There are now nearly 1,800 community-based United Ways in 41 countries and territories that generate $5 billion in annual revenue.
“He’s a complicated personality because he did so many wonderful things, and of course his reputation was tarnished by his travel practices and affairs, and all that kind of thing,” said Bruce Hopkins, senior partner with law firm Polsinelli Shughart in Kansas City, Mo. “It’s unfortunate, that’s what people think of, I suppose, when they think of Bill Aramony, because he really contributed a great deal to the sector. He really created the United Way and the whole federated fundraising concept. United Way existed in different forms before he got a hold of it.” Aramony was influential in getting United Way started in a number of other countries and the creation of United Way International, as well as securing a key partnership with the National Football League (NFL).
Hopkins was in Hungary when the first board meeting of United Way in that nation occurred. “It was an extraordinary event,” he said, with many wealthy and influential people, including the founder of the Rubik’s Cube. United Way International was really growing fast when the investigations arose and Aramony was sent to prison, according to Hopkins.
"People use the word charismatic, but he really was. He was a great guy to be around, he wielded a lot of influence, he was the ultimate networker. He had his fingers in organized philanthropy all over the place, in all kinds of boards and special projects,” Hopkins said. “He was one of the leading lights in organized philanthropy, when he was in his height. It’s just too bad that this all had to happen.”
Aramony had a fairly good-sized compensation package and “one of the more luxurious nonprofit offices I’ve ever been in,” said Hopkins, but that’s not what did him in. “It was the abuse, abuse of the organization’s money, where he traveled using organization resources. It was an obvious lack of judgment,” he said. NPT