Vilar, 69, has been imprisoned since soon after a jury convicted him in November 2008 of conspiracy fraud for cheating investors of $40 million through his San Francisco-based company, Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc. He now walks with a cane.
Sullivan called Vilar a complicated man of "tremendous generosity" who had donated millions of dollars to charities, the arts and individuals. He said Vilar needed to be punished to send a stern message to money managers that they must act honestly to protect customers' assets.
"If they don't believe that, the entire economy can suffer," Sullivan said.
"Most people want security – to know their life won't be abruptly turned upside down," Sullivan said. With Vilar, "that trust was abused," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Litt said Vilar sometimes operated his business like a Ponzi scheme by paying early investors with money later invested by others, especially after Vilar's two-decade run of financial success hit a wall when his beloved technology stocks fell suddenly in value in 2000.
"In essence, he rolled sevens for years," the judge said. "But the sevens turned to snake eyes in 2000, 2001."
Vilar earned hundreds of millions of dollars on investments in the 1990s as the stock market rose in double digits almost annually. He spent some of the money making donations of as much as $225 million to opera houses.
After his arrest, he found himself largely abandoned by the affluent and powerful, confined to his apartment under house arrest for more than three years before trial.
Vilar – said by Forbes magazine to be worth $950 million during good times – abandoned some pledges when the markets plunged, charities said. The Metropolitan Opera took his name off its grand tier, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London removed his surname from its Floral Hall and the Salzburg Festival in Austria stripped his picture from its programs.
Witnesses against him at trial included Lily Cates, the mother of actress Phoebe Cates, who said Vilar improperly spent $5 million of her money.
Vilar's attorney, Jonathan Marks, said his client had suffered "a huge fall from a very high position."
Sullivan announced his sentence soon after an 89-year-old doctor who uses a wheelchair and the man's two daughters described how their family had been overwhelmed by debt for much of the past decade because Vilar would not return the money they had invested with him.
"We have suffered terribly," said one of the daughters, Lisa Mayer.
Vilar, in a rambling statement, said he objected to the prosecutor's claim that he was not sorry for his crimes.
"I don't know where the government gets the idea I am not responsible or remorseful," he said. "I deeply regret any inconvenience that our 14,000 clients might have suffered."
He said he believed there were only five victims in the fraud and that there was a 95 percent likelihood that all would recover their losses.
Vilar's co-defendant at trial – Gary Alan Tanaka, 66, – was sentenced later Friday to five years in prison for his lesser role. He had been convicted of conspiracy along with securities and investment adviser fraud, but was acquitted on nine other counts.