KINGS PARK, NY —Kings Park resident John Ferreyra spent weeks at Ground Zero clearing rubble after 9/11 as an NYPD officer. In 2005, Ferrayra, a husband and father of two daughters, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He is now seven years in remission from cancer, but his health battle was only the beginning of a second ordeal: An attorney and friend helping to procure his Victim Compensation Fund award ended up stealing $900,000 of his award for his own personal use.
Ferrayra waited almost four years for the money, hoping the payment would finally allow him and his family “to breathe, and get out from debt” incurred during his cancer treatments, he told Patch. He trusted Gustavo L. Vila, of Yorktown Heights, having known him for years. Ferrayra was unaware Vila had been disbarred after stealing from a client. Vila is also retired from the NYPD.
“[Vila] was someone I’ve known for many years, through the police department, we even attended weddings together,” Ferrayra remembered. “We talked almost every day.”
When he found out “on a fluke” from a mutual friend that Vila was disbarred, he inquired with the VCF and found out his entire payment had been disbursed to Vila, who spent all but $100,000 of it.
“From 2016 to 2020 I was waiting, waiting to be able to breathe again.”
Although Ferrayra feels the betrayal was especially shocking because of who Vila was, he told Patch he feels justice was served this week.
Vila, 62, was sentenced Monday in White Plains federal court to 51 months in prison, three years supervised release and ordered to forfeit more than $992,559.24 and pay restitution to Ferrayra of $867,870.76. Vila pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government funds, authorities said.
“I am satisfied with the sentence, it was what I expected and I am okay with that,” Ferrayra said.
He’s looking forward to moving on and the closure the end of the court proceedings will bring him and his wife.
“Forget the previous four years,” he pointed out. “It’s been a tumultuous past year, waiting for all the court hearings and dealing with the [pandemic] delays.”
Ferrayra’s attorney Bruce Kaye said that they won’t seek civil litigation and instead are satisfied with the court-ordered restitution. Vila will have to pay a percentage of his police pension once he begins collecting it.
Kaye attributes Ferrayra’s positive outlook on his cancer battle and subsequent betrayal in this case to his supportive family and his wife Lisa.
“I’ve never seen a more supportive relationship,” he said.
As for Ferrayra, he has forgiven his former friend but warns others to always do their due diligence when it comes to vetting someone.
“Even if you’re familiar with them—if I could go back I’d look into him more. But I trusted him because I knew him.”
In the end, Ferrayra feels he is left with plenty.
“My life goes on with my family and new friends I made through this. He’s going to be the one who lost more than I ever did.”