Disbarred lawyer who stole NYPD officer's 9/11 payout sentenced to 4 years in prison

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A former NYPD officer and disbarred attorney was sentenced to just over four years in prison Monday for stealing the $1 million 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund award of his friend and fellow officer.

Gustavo Vila, a former lieutenant who became a lawyer after retiring from the NYPD, pleaded guilty last year to one count of theft of government funds. He faced up to 10 years behind bars, but the judge sentenced him to 51 months.

"Gustavo Vila stole money awarded by the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to his client, an NYPD officer and 9/11 first responder," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said said. "Further, Vila lied to his client for more than three years, telling him that the stolen money had yet to be released by the Fund. Now, Gustavo Vila has been sentenced to prison for his betrayal."

Officer John Ferreyra spent weeks working in the rubble at ground zero after September 11, 2001, and in 2005, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's' lymphoma.

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He underwent surgeries, a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy and radiation, and he later tapped his friend Vila to file a federal Victim Compensation Fund claim.

Ferreyra was awarded over $1 million, but Vila -- who unknown to Ferreyra had been disbarred for stealing from his clients -- pocketed $900,000 and told Ferreyra that the fund had run out of money after paying out $100,000 of the award.

"He was more concerned about his well-being, knowing what we had been through, knowing what I had been through," Ferreyra said. "And again, he walked the same path I did. He was there at ground zero, saw the death and destruction, so he knows what I went through."

The judge described the betrayal as "disgusting," "crazy," and "simply inexcusable.'

"The judge was right on point," wife Lisa McDermott said. "He couldn't have been more honorable to my family, to our children, to our circumstance, because this wasn't an easy circumstance."

Ferreyra's attorney, Michael Barasch, who is representing him pro-bono, has represented over 20,000 9/11 first responders.

Barasch alerted the U.S. Attorney's Office to the crime and then helped secure a $400,000 compensation payment from the Lawyers Fund, which is supported by a fee imposed on all attorneys practicing in New York State.

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In addition to the 51-month prison term, the 62-year-old Vila was sentenced to three years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit $922,559.84 and to pay Ferreyra restitution in the amount of $867,870.76.

"The reality is John is going to live a happy, nice life, John and Lisa will," he said. "Not expecting another dime. Whatever you get is great."

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