WHITE PLAINS – Gustavo Vila, 62, of Yorktown Heights was disbarred in 2015, but continued practicing law, representing a 9/11 victim. He represented an NYPD officer in seeking a settlement from the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) and then stole the $1 million award, according to Acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss. Vila was arrested on Wednesday, September 9, on one count of Theft of Government Funds, and arraigned in Federal Court in White Plains.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said “As alleged, Gustavo Vila stole money awarded to his client – an NYPD officer and 9/11 first responder – by the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Vila allegedly lied to his client, telling the client for more than three years that the money Vila stole had yet to be released by the Fund. Further, Vila lied to his client about his standing, continuing to hold himself out as an attorney even after he had been disbarred. Now Gustavo Vila has been charged with theft of government funds.”
The federal complaint, unsealed Wednesday, says in part “From at least in or about 2012 through at least in or about 2019, Gustavo L. Vila, the defendant, represented a retired New York City Police Department Officer (“Victim-1”) in connection with Victim-1’s claim for compensation from VCF. Victim-1 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 Victim-1, VILA held himself out as an attorney to Victim-1 and to VCF, despite the fact that in 2015, VILA was disbarred.”
The complaint also alleges that Vila used the secreted funds for his own benefit and lied to the NYPD victim. “On or about October 12, 2016, the VCF deposited the full amount of Victim-1’s award into the Bank Account. At that point, VILA was required to distribute all of that money, less 10% for his purported attorney’s fees, to Victim-1. VILA, however, did not distribute any of that money to Victim-1 or otherwise inform Victim-1 about this deposit. Rather, VILA allegedly kept almost the entire amount of that award for himself and used that money for his own personal benefit, including to pay his own taxes. From in or about October 2016 to in or about February 2020, VILA falsely represented to Victim-1 that the VCF had not yet released the majority of Victim-1’s VCF award, when in fact, the entire award had been released for Victim-1’s benefit in October 2016.”
Vila faces up to ten years in prison if convicted.