By Larry McShane, NY Daily News
A 9/11 hero NYPD officer, scammed out of a $1 million compensation fund check by a friend and fellow cop, received a welcome bit of holiday payback from a state lawyers’ group.
Cancer survivor John Ferreyra, who fell ill after working on the toxic pile at Ground Zero after the 2001 World Trade Center attack, was presented Thursday with a $400,000 check by the New York State Lawyers Fund. He was victimized by a former NYPD pal turned attorney — with the scammer now facing up to 10 years in prison at his Feb. 5 sentencing.
“I am both humbled and grateful to finally receive (nearly) half of the award that was given to me for my disabling 9/11 illness,” said Ferreyra, diagnosed in in 2005 with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “It is my hope that no other member of the 9/11 community, or anybody else, ever has to experience what my family and I went through.”
Left to right: 9/11 survivors advocate John Feal, attorney Michael Barash, Lisa Ferreyra and her husband John Ferreyra. (Obtained by Daily News)
The lawyers’ fund provides financial assistance for clients victimized by unscrupulous attorneys like Gustavo Vila, who pleaded guilty to stealing 90% of his friend’s payout from the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. The lawyer and Ferreyra became close when Vila was working his way up through the NYPD ranks, eventually becoming a lieutenant and advisor to Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Vila, 62, admitted pocketing all but $100,000 of Ferreyra’s $1 million payout, using the cash to pay his taxes and write checks to his family worth nearly $300,000. It was later discovered that Vila was actually disbarred for a grand larceny conviction in 2015 — the year before the check to his old friend arrived.
Ferreyra endured incessant rounds of treatment, running the gamut from multiple surgeries to chemotherapy, from radiation to a stem cell transplant, in the years after he was diagnosed. The father of two girls said his longtime friend continued lying to him until this past January and never offered an apology for the cruel scam.
Vila pleaded guilty in White Plains Federal Court in October, four years after his friend’s check from the 9/11 fund arrived and seven years after he took on Ferreyra’s case.
“It’s inexcusable to steal from anyone, but to target and prey upon a 9/11 hero in this way is a despicable betrayal not of just John Ferreyra but of all those who have sacrificed their health and lives working to rebuild following the attacks,” said 9/11 survivors advocate John Feal.
Feal presented the $400,00 check to Ferreyra along with the victim’s attorney Michael Barash, whose firm has represented thousands of first responders.
“I could simply not stand by when I heard John’s devastating story, realizing he was being victimized again,” said Barash. “This was a betrayal of trust, plain and simple.”