A year ago, Patrick Arbor was living the good life of a wealthy American expatriate in Lugano, Switzerland, taking his meals on the patio of his condo overlooking a picturesque alpine lake and planning his next trekking adventure in the mountains beyond.
Arbor’s gated community was a short walk from a train station that could whisk him to see his bankers in Zurich or to a more challenging location for his daily hike.
These days, the 82-year-old former chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade takes his meals in a gated community of an entirely different sort — a cell in the Cermak Hospital unit of the Cook County Jail, where he has been held in isolation for nearly seven months on a civil contempt of court charge growing out of a bitter divorce.
Arbor’s only exercise is what little walking he can do during the hour a day he is allowed to visit the small day room on his floor. The former jet-setter now supplements his meals with peanut butter and tuna fish from the jail commissary.
In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Arbor talked about his jail confinement and his reasons for fleeing the country in 2012 to avoid paying his ex-wife Antoinette Vigilante. He argued that he continues to be treated unfairly by the court system and deserves to be released.
“It’s persecution, as I see it,” Arbor said.
I’m far from convinced that Arbor is a victim here, having tracked this story for many years because I don’t like it when rich guys run away to avoid legal consequences, not to mention taxes.
But I also have doubts that someone his age should be held in jail indefinitely in a dispute over money. So today we’ll let him tell his story.
In Monday’s paper, I’ll have an interview with Arbor’s ex-wife, who has won every important decision in their legal battle — with rulings by multiple judges at every level of the state court system — but so far has been able to pry from Arbor only a small fraction of her $18 million divorce judgment against him.
Arbor still wants to debate the size of that judgment, which he says was based on an inflated calculation of his net worth. Perhaps, though it’s hard to tell, given the limited documentation Arbor has provided about his finances.
But that’s a moot point, Arbor having lost his standing to challenge the amount when he fled the country. The only real question all along has been what he is willing to pay in a settlement, if anything.
Arbor contends that he can’t pay anything at all because he lost most of his money in a bank collapse, and the only funds he has left are outside his control in an “asset-protection trust” in the tiny European nation of Lichtenstein. Arbor said the terms of the trust preclude a payout in his present circumstances — an ironic twist, if true, because it is a trap of his own making.
“I’ve complied with every one of their demands, orders and wishes. … There’s nothing more I can do,” Arbor said. “The judge and the Malfatorre want to keep me here.”
“The Malfatorre” is Arbor’s nickname for Vigilante.
The Italian word translates to “the evil one.” In a three hour-plus interview, Arbor never referred to his ex-wife by name, only as “the Malfatorre.”
‘I moved some money over there’
The judge in question is Domestic Relations Court Judge Myron Mackoff, who inherited the divorce case after Arbor’s arrest and has thus far stood firm about keeping him in jail until convinced he’s made a good-faith effort to pay. The case is due back in court on Thursday, with the likelihood that Arbor will spend Christmas in jail.
It’s been an extraordinary reversal of fortune for Arbor, traceable to a fateful decision he made six years ago.
Unhappy with preliminary rulings that went against him in the divorce case, Arbor moved as much of his money as possible into offshore accounts — $21.5 million total, by his accounting — and fled the country to put himself beyond the reach of the Cook County courts.
Arbor said his decision to leave was influenced by a serious bout with skin cancer that shortened his life expectancy.
“I said, ‘Gee, I’ve got six or seven years left. Do I want to spend it in court fighting this malfatorre, or go climb some mountains and try to enjoy my remaining years?’ ” Arbor said.
Arbor chose to enjoy himself in Lugano, an Italian-speaking province of Switzerland. Arbor is of Italian heritage and has learned the language.
Most of that $21.5 million had been moved overseas earlier, primarily to keep it away from the IRS, not Vigilante, Arbor said.
“I moved some money over there, and I didn’t disclose it,” he said. “I’ll be honest, that was not right what I did.”
Because of that, he admits he has a continuing federal tax problem that further complicates his finances, although he has entered the government’s amnesty program for tax cheats. He refused to discuss how much he still owes.
After Arbor failed to appear in court in 2012, the judge handling the divorce case at the time declared him to be in indirect civil contempt and issued a bench warrant for his arrest — a reckoning he successfully avoided until May, when he was picked up in Boston after slipping into the country to attend his grandson’s college graduation.
Arbor was extradited to Illinois and sent to jail, where he has been ever since, held on a $1.4 million cash bond, despite entreaties from his lawyer that he should be released on electronic monitoring.
Arbor no longer has a home here, but he said he has many options of where to stay if approved for house arrest.
Among those who have offered to put him up, he said, are former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former Cook County Judge Richard Neville, former state Sen. William Laurino and commodities trader Blair Hull, a onetime candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Such name-dropping is only a small measure of the influence Arbor once had in Chicago, where his fundraising for politicians and charities made him an A-list business celebrity.
Among the main recipients of Arbor’s charitable efforts was the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, where he grew up after being orphaned when his alcoholic mother committed suicide.
Arbor is so devoted to the program that he slipped into town in 2016 for the 25th annual Ringside for Mercy’s Sake black-tie gala, a fundraiser combining boxing and casino-style gambling that he helped start in 1991 as a collaboration between the city’s financial exchanges.
Arbor says that was only one of many occasions he disregarded the arrest warrant to return to the United States, though he was careful that night not to pose for photos.
‘It does wear on you’
Mercy remains on Arbor’s mind. He said he might even move back into the facility if he goes on electronic monitoring. He pictures himself living out his final years tutoring the current residents in math as a poetic ending to his rags-to-riches story.
To that end, he said he spends an hour a day boning up on his algebra skills using a textbook brought to him by lawyer friend Mazie Harris.
Arbor has received many visitors in jail, among them Moseley Braun, who brought along veteran criminal defense attorney Frank David Edwards to advise her old friend.
Edwards said he doesn’t believe Arbor belongs in jail.
“I’ve always believed jails were for dangerous people,” he said.
But jails are also a means for judges in civil cases to force compliance from recalcitrant litigants, therein lying the rub in this case.
Also paying a visit to the jail were former Fruit of the Loom chief executive Bill Farley and his wife, singer Shelley MacArthur Farley, who once treated Arbor and Vigilante to a two-week Mediterranean cruise aboard Farley’s 190-foot luxury yacht, L’Acquisitione.
Not surprisingly, it was the power couple’s first time at the jail, and they hadn’t understood the procedures for visiting a detainee. After waiting two and a half hours to see Arbor, they gave up and went home, Farley said, but not before getting a sense that jail life is “scary stuff.”
Arbor said he has no complaint with his treatment at the jail. He understands that he’s being held in isolation for his own safety because of his age and health.
“But monotony, boredom and isolation lead to depredation,” Arbor said. “Being confined like I am, it does wear on you. My mental and physical acuity is diminishing.”
He tries to counteract that by reading. He said he stopped counting after the first 38 books. He started with books on mountain climbing, completed the Red Sparrow spy thriller series and moved on to history. Many of the books have been sent to him by his buddy Sam Cecola, owner of the Admiral Theater strip club.
Arbor said he just finished a book on Leonardo da Vinci and is currently reading “Biting at the Grave,” a book about the Irish hunger strikers.
Arbor said he won’t be going on any hunger strike but took inspiration from hunger striker Bobby Sands, who chose to express himself through poetry.
As a result, Arbor is trying to write his own poems, two of which he proceeded to read aloud, including this closing stanza:
“Persecution of my life/by an evil ex wife has mired me in limbo/Left with nowhere to go!”
As I say, it’s a bitter divorce.
‘I’m kind of doomed, I guess’
Arbor, who once walked the length of Western Avenue, climbed the Matterhorn and ran five marathons, said he’s been outdoors on only four occasions since coming to the jail.
He isn’t optimistic about walking along Western Avenue again any time soon, even for a block.
“I’ve had many lawyers, one after another after another, and nobody can have me liberated. So I’m kind of doomed, I guess,” Arbor said.
The latest legal hangup involves Arbor signing papers authorizing his trustee in Lichtenstein to turn over to Vigilante the money in his trust — valued at anywhere from $4 million to $5.3 million, depending on who you ask.
After Arbor signed the documents to release the money, Vigilante’s lawyers maintain that Arbor had someone separately tell the trustee to disregard the court papers he’d signed.
Arbor denied he has instructed anyone not to pay Vigilante the money in the trust, but he said he’s had several friends, including Neville and trader Pat Girondi, who was known as Patrick Finley when he was running for political office here in the 1980s, make inquiries about how the trustee would handle any attempt to pay the funds to his ex-wife.
Arbor said his understanding of the provisions of the trust is that there can be “no distributions for judgments or litigation or any coercion of the court.”
“We’ve made it very apparent to them that this is not being done voluntarily because it’s not voluntary. I’m not volunteering to do it. I’ve been ordered by the court to do it, and that’s the message that’s been sent,” Arbor said.
Even stranger is that Arbor says he lost the bulk of his money — about $14 million — in the 2014 collapse of the Portugal-based Espirito Santo Bank of Dubai.
“You can Google it,” Arbor says.
Indeed, the bank collapse is real, but Vigilante’s lawyers say they’ve seen no proof the bank failure cost Arbor.
He insists that money is gone.
“It’s something like the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine,” he said. “They could look for that the rest of their life, but there’s nothing there.”
The issue for Arbor might be whether he is willing to let them search for it the rest of his life.