WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A former police lieutenant-turned-lawyer was sentenced Monday to more than four years in prison after cheating a fellow officer of $900,000 he was owed for working at the smoldering World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Gustavo Vila, 62, of Yorktown Heights, New York, was sentenced Monday in White Plains federal court by Judge Vincent L. Briccetti after pleading guilty in October.
Briccetti issued a sentence of four years and three months in prison, which was the highest potential sentence recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
Vila had admitted cheating the U.S. government by only forwarding $100,000 of over $1 million in proceeds from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund destined for John Ferreyra.
Ferreyra, a New York City police officer during the 9/11 attacks, was awarded the money in 2016. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and suffered from other serious life threatening medical conditions linked to working two months of 12-hour to 16-hour days at the toxic trade center site.
In court papers, Vila’s lawyers sought leniency, saying he was a victim of the 9/11 attacks too and that as a result of his latest crime, Vila’s wife divorced him and his son will no longer speak to him.
“He was a first responder, and as with many first responders, the impact of that day and the days and months that followed still haunt him. He was there clearing the debris and identifying fallen firefighters,” they wrote.
They added: “He is deeply remorseful, ashamed and embarrassed.”
In their sentencing papers, prosecutors said Vila deserved no leniency for his work at the 9/11 site.
“The defendant knew firsthand the traumatic and challenging circumstances that his fellow NYPD officers such as Officer Ferreyra faced in the wake of the terrorist attacks,” prosecutors said.
They noted that Ferreyra’s family was left financially distressed and was counting on the compensation fund money after Ferreyra’s illnesses forced his retirement from the police department.
Prosecutors said Vila told Ferreyra he was a practicing attorney even though he had been disbarred in New York state in 2015 after he was convicted in Westchester County Supreme Court of grand larceny after stealing over $90,000 from a client he had represented on a property sale.
Prosecutors said Vila spent some of Ferreyra’s money on taxes and gave some to his then-wife and their son.
U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a release that Vila had betrayed his client, telling Ferreyra for more than three years that the stolen money had yet to be released by the Victim Compensation Fund.