Over 22 years, William Aramony built the United Way of America from a tangled web of charities into a philanthropic powerhouse, bringing in more than $3 billion annually. His success was eclipsed by a scandal in which he spent the charity's money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including gifts and trips for a 17-year-old girlfriend.
Aramony died Friday at the Alexandria, Va., home of his son Robert. He was 84. He battled prostate cancer that metastasized to his bones while he was serving a six-year prison sentence for fraud and tax evasion related to the scandal.
William Aramony was a son of Lebanese immigrants and dedicated his time after his 2001 release from prison to peace-building efforts in the Middle East, his son said. This summer, he traveled to Egypt to meet with political and religious leaders following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
He earned a master's degree in social work at Boston College in 1951. While serving in the Army in the 1950s, he did social work counseling soldiers, his son said. In 1954, he joined United Way's predecessor, the United Community Funds and Council of America.
"At heart, that's what he was, a social worker," Robert Aramony said. "He did it his whole life."
Aramony was the United Way's CEO from 1970 to 1992, and he built the United Way into one of the nation's best-known charitable groups. Revenue 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.
The charity's successes were overshadowed by the scandal surrounding Aramony's spending.
Prosecutors said Aramony's spending on personal luxuries with United Way funds constituted a fraud because donors expected their money would go to charity.
At his federal trial in 1995 in Alexandria, where United Way is based, prosecutors and court officials estimated that he defrauded donors of anywhere 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, whom he met while he was 60 and dating her older sister. Aramony, who was married at the time, took the teenager on trips, billing her plane tickets and meals as charity expenses.
Court testimony showed that Aramony directed his secretary to hide expenses for trips she took with him to Egypt, London, Paris, Las Vegas, New York City and other locations.
Several women who worked at the charity also testified that they were subjected to sexually harassing behavior by Aramony.
His defense lawyer argued that Aramony was suffering from a brain trauma, a shrunken frontal lobe that made him increasingly irrational and coarsened his sexual drive.
He served six years of a seven-year prison sentence.
He was born in Jewett City, Conn., on July 27, 1927 and graduated from Clark University in 1949.
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."