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Monday, November 14, 2022

Black Woman, Former NYPD Detective, Says Lawyers Misappropriated Millions of Dollars From 9/11 Victims

Joanne Brown

Nationwide — In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack, Congress created a $20 billion Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to provide compensation for any individual killed or who suffered physical harm because of the attacks or debris removal. Preparing the documentation in order to participate in the fund generally required the assistance of lawyers. In many cases, the lawyers behaved honestly and legally represented their clients taking a fair compensation for their work from the proceeds they received on behalf of their clients, the actual victims of 911. However, in far too many other instances, the lure of the millions of dollars of funds, made it irresistible for some lawyers to unfairly take monies that should have been paid to the intended victims.

Many victims, especially African Americans and people of color who assisted in the rescue and recovery, were victimized a second time by these less-than-honest lawyers. Court cases regularly emerged in the press of how white victims were able to successfully seek legal remedy and recovery for these lawyers’ misdeeds. For example, on September 3, 2020, the United States Attorney General, Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment and charged a white lawyer for stealing 9/11 Victim Compensation Funds from a White NYPD Detective. (Press Release Number: 20-187). This story, “Disbarred Lawyer Admits Stealing $1 million From Ex-Cop with 9/11 – related Cancer” was also in the Long Island Press, October 20, 2020.

One such allegation is made by Joanne Brown, one of the many African American 911 victims whose legal attempts have failed to recover over $5 million, which she alleges her lawyers illegally misappropriated from her Victim Compensation Claim. Ms. Brown is a disabled African American female and a 20-year veteran First Grade Detective of the New York Police Department. On September 11, 2001, she was an NYPD First Grade Detective assigned to the Missing Persons Squad. She was present before, during, and after the Collapse of the Towers and was injured when a man pushed her causing her to fall to the ground and the man then fell on top of her. Despite this injury, Ms. Brown continued to assist in the rescue efforts until Tower 2 collapsed. She was rendered unconscious and later taken hospitalized.

In the ensuing years, from May 2002 to June 2016, Ms. Brown, because of that fall had 14 surgeries, 5 exacerbated physical injuries and 18 certified conditions from 780 hours of direct toxic exposure caused on September 11, 2001. The World Trade Center Health Program for compensation certified these injuries and conditions. Her second victimization began when she hired, Christopher R. LoPalo, (Napoli Shkolnik) and Edward L. C. Marcowitz, (formerly of Marc J. Bern, & Partners & Barasch & McGarry) to represent her in June 2012 and October 2016.

From June 2012 until October 2013, Christopher R. LoPalo represented Ms. Brown on her Victim Compensation Claim. He received all her medical documents, financial records and authorizations and filed them with the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. The Fund assigned claim VCF Claim #008844. When Ms. Brown contacted the VCF on October 13, 2013 she was informed that a payment had been approved and paid to her lawyer, Christopher LoPalo. Ms. Brown immediately contacted the office of Mr. LoPalo and was told they could not disclose the amount but someone from the office would contact her in a week. The next day, Mr. LoPalo’s office called and said a contingent check had been mailed to her and returned and for her to contact them. She immediately contacted them but despite this, no accounting was ever made for money and no money was ever paid by Mr. LoPalo to Ms. Brown.

On October 18, 2013, Ms. Brown complained to the VCF about LoPalo’s (1) failure to inform her of the amount of her claim recovery and (2) his failure to pay her money he had received from her claim. This complaint was filed with Sheila Birnbaum, Special Master who instead of addressing the previous payment issue simply issued a new claim #VCF0069080 to Ms. Brown. At that point, Ms. Brown terminated the LoPalo firm representation of her. She retained the law firm of Marc J. Bern & Partners in October 2016.

From August 2014 to August 2016, Ms. Brown continued to send requested medical documents to the VCF as her medical issues continued to get progressively worse. In June 2016, Ms. Brown received another eligibility letter listing her continuing injuries. During that period, Christopher LoPalo, despite having been previously dismissed as her attorney, continued to have access to her documents. Per her VCF Portal records, he received VCF compensation by apparently filing under Ms. Brown’s original claim number #VCF008844 as well as under the new VCF Claim #VCF0069080 assigned by the Special Master when she originally filed the complaint against him.

In March 2017, Edward L.C. Marcowitz representing Marc J. Bern & Partners used the same documents to file under claim number #VCF0069080, the VCF claim number assigned by the Special Master. Under that claim number, payments were made to Marc Bern and & partners including Marcowitz. The firm sent Ms. Brown a check payable for “out of pocket medical expenses for $8,679. Again, no accounting of the total amounts paid on her claim was ever given to her by Marc Bern or Edward L.C. Marcowitz.

Ms. Brown’s efforts to retain an attorney to represent her against the two attorneys she alleges defrauded her have failed. Further attempts to get the Special Masters to address her issues also failed.

As a consequence, Ms. Brown must live not just with the injuries and emotional damage from the September 911 attacks but she also must live with having been victimized a second time by less-than-honest lawyers . In the meanwhile, the 2023 statue of limitation term on her claim continues to move swiftly forward.

For press inquiries, contact Joanne Brown at Jbrown4027@aol.com or 917-379-4833.