A state fund to reimburse the defrauded clients of crooked lawyers has awarded $400,000 to an ex-cop from Kings Park who was sickened while working at Ground Zero, then ripped off by his attorney, himself a former police officer.
John Ferreyra, 59, who retired from the NYPD following a diagnosis of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, got the maximum award from the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, after his now-former lawyer, Gustavo L. Vila, stole more than $900,000 issued by the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
At a news conference Thursday near the newly built World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan with his wife, Lisa, by his side, Ferreyra called the experience an "absolutely terrible time" for him and his family.
"To be awarded this money, and then to finally say we can breathe was just incredible. We were, like, planning for our future, for our daughters, for our family," he said. "And then, to be strung along for four years, being deceived and lied to, and then to ultimately discover what had happened, and not knowing where to turn — and I mean, thank God, again, for the lawyers fund."
Vila's attorney, Susanne Brody, could not immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Ferreyra worked traffic detail at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and spent 20 years with the NYPD.
Vila, of Yorktown Heights in Westchester County and himself a retired NYPD cop, was Ferreyra’s attorney for seven years beginning in 2012, according to federal prosecutors.
Vila pleaded guilty Oct. 29 to stealing from government funds. Vila, who was disbarred, admitted, at a proceeding at U.S. District Court in White Plains that he stole about 90% of the $1,032,000 owed to Ferreyra. Vila’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 5, when he could face up to 10 years in prison.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was created "to provide compensation for any individual (or a personal representative of a deceased individual) who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001, or the debris removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath of those crashes," according to the fund's website.
Michael Knight, executive director of Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, said that in 2019 the fund awarded $9.8 million to 125 people, with the median award being $50,000. Covered is theft, including stolen escrow payments, personal injury settlements, trusts and estates, investments and legal fees connected to dishonest conduct. The fund, which was established in 1982 and now has a maximum payout of $400,000 per client loss, then pursues the crooked lawyer to recompense itself, Knight said.
The money comes from a $60 slice of the $375 registration fee attorneys in New York State pay every two years, he said.
In the Ferreyra case, the money was approved in September and the payout authorized Nov. 20, Knight said.One of Ferreyra's new attorneys, Manhattan-based Michael Barasch, who helped Ferreyra get the award from the fund and did not collect a fee, said his law firm would pursue Vila for the rest of the money his client is owed.
At the news conference, Barasch presented Ferreyra with a ceremonial oversized check.
"In this case, they weren’t able to make John Ferreyra whole," he said, "but 400,000 is a nice way to start towards, you know, making up for the $900,000 that is missing."
Barasch said he hopes that, under the terms of Vila’s plea agreement in the criminal case, Ferreyra will be entitled to 20% of Vila’s pension and Social Security disability payments.
"But, you know what?," Barasch said. "That’s a pretty small amount compared to the 500,000 that we’re still trying to get."