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Disbarred lawyer sentenced to more than 4 years for stealing NYPD officer’s $1 million payout from 9/11 fund

The September 11 Memorial North Pool and One World Trade Center (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

A disbarred lawyer who previously served as New York Police Department lieutenant was sentenced to four years and three months Monday for stealing nearly $1 million from a fellow officer suffering from cancer caused by work at the toxic rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Gustavo Vila swindled NYPD Officer John Ferreyra by representing the gravely ill former officer in an application to the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund. In October 2016 the fund issued a payout for Ferreyra that landed in Vila’s account. Vila kept almost all of it for himself and lied for years to Ferreyra, who was a family friend.

“This was a truly despicable crime. The defendant, Mr. Vila, stole nearly $1 million that had been awarded to his friend. Stop right there, his friend. And fellow retired New York City police officer – a fellow retired police officer,” White Plains federal Judge Vincent Briccetti said. “He should be ashamed of it. It’s shameful.”

The extent of Vila’s deception was “breathtaking,” the judge said. Vila failed to tell Ferreyra that in 2015 he’d been disbarred for stealing more than $90,000 from a different client. Vila strung along Ferreyra, who was gravely ill with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Ferreyra’s wife for nearly four years, telling them the payout was just around the corner. Ferreyra’s wife, Lisa, choked up during brief remarks in court, saying her husband was “on his deathbed” at the time of the fraud.

Briccetti ordered Vila repay $867,870.76.

The couple learned of Vila’s lies by calling up the Compensation Fund directly last year.

“He chose to steal almost my entire award given to me by a thoughtful nation to ease my suffering from cancer,” John Ferreyra said. He doubted Vila will ever be able to pay him back.

“Who will hire a pathological liar and admitted serial crook?” said Ferreyra, who worked at the World Trade Center the day of the terrorist attacks and for months after.

Vila used the ailing officer’s money to cover personal expenses and debts, including repaying a loan associated with the dissolution of his law firm after he was disbarred.

“What I did was disgusting. I’m ashamed of it. It was selfish for me to think I could take care of my problems by using his money,” Vila said.

He promised to spend the rest of his life working to make Ferreyra whole — though he noted that his “promise” isn’t worth much.

The New York State Lawyers Fund, which compensated victims of fraud by attorneys, gave Ferreyra a $400,000 check in in December. The judge ordered Vila to pay that money back, after he’s fully compensated Ferreyra.

“Mr. Vila was a cop. His betrayal of a fellow cop was simply inexcusable. Mr. Vila was a lawyer — I’m a lawyer! His theft and repeated lies to a client besmirches an honorable profession,” Briccetti said.

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