A disbarred attorney from Northern Westchester admitted to stealing approximately $1 million that was rewarded to one of his clients from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Yorktown Heights resident Gustavo Vila pleaded guilty in White Plains Federal Court for stealing from his client, who was a first responder who suffered life-threatening medical conditions while cleaning up the crash site at Ground Zero.
The Victim Compensation Fund was created in the wake of the terror attack to provide government funds to compensate anyone who was harmed or killed as a result of the attacks.
It ran from 2001 to 2004 before being reactivated by the federal government in 2016 and 2020.
Claimants seeking compensation from the Fund were authorized to work with an attorney and have the attorney, on the victim’s behalf, submit a claim to, and receive the claimant’s award from, the Fund.
An attorney’s fees were limited to 10 percent of whatever was awarded to the first responders.
Between 2012 and 2019, Vila represented a retired NYPD officer who was diagnosed with and suffered from, serious, life-threatening medical conditions, including cancer, as a result of rescue and recovery work he performed at Ground Zero.
Throughout his representation of his victim, Vila held himself out as an attorney to the officer and the Fund, despite the fact that in 2015, he was disbarred after being charged in an unrelated grand larceny case.
In May 2013, Vila submitted a claim on behalf of his victim, though the funds received - a total of $1,030,622.04 - were directed straight into a bank account controlled by Vila in September 2016 after he had been disbarred.
Prosecutors said that in October 2016, Vila was required to distribute all of the money into his victim’s bank account, minus the 10 percent attorney’s fee.
Instead, Vila kept the money and failed to even tell his victim about the deposit.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said that Vila used the money for himself, including to pay his own taxes from October 2016 through February 2020. Vila allegedly never told his victim that the transfer had been made four years prior.
Vila was arrested earlier this year when his victim learned of his disbarment and contacted the Victim's Compensation Fund himself and learned that the transaction had already been completed.
"As he admitted today, Gustavo Vila stole money awarded by the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to his client, an NYPD officer and 9/11 first responder, and falsely told the client for more than three years that the stolen money had yet to be released by the Fund. Now Gustavo Vila awaits sentencing for his crime," Strauss said.
Vila, 62, pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government funds. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on Feb. 5, 2021
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