NEW YORK — The children of a fallen NYPD detective are being denied access to their mother’s pension, all because she was a single parent.
As CBS2’s Kevin Rincon reported Wednesday, at issue is a legal loophole that can only be fixed by lawmakers in Albany.
“Overnight, I had to change my life,” Genesis Villela said.
Villela lost her mother,, five years ago next month. The 12-year NYPD veteran , targeted simply because of the badge she wore.
Villela was 20 at the time and became the legal caretaker of her two younger siblings, Peter and Delilah Vega.
CBS2 spoke to them in 2017, less than two weeks after the tragedy. Hours before she was killed, they had spent the Fourth of July together.
“It was really fun. We had hot dogs, burgers,” Peter said at the time.
Delilah recalled what is was like having a mom as an officer.
“They thought it was, like, cool. ‘Oh your mom was a cop?’ My friends thought it was cool,” she said.
“Ever since that day, I’ve had to step into role of parent,” Villela said Wednesday.
They are now bigger, older, and still miss their mom. Their situation is unique. Under current state law, only parents and spouses of fallen officers are entitled to their pension for life. Children have until they’re 23, under strict rules and oversight.
One of the rules is you have to be enrolled full-time in college. Villela, unaware of that, dropped out to be there for her siblings.
“I almost felt like I was being punished for not being in school, for prioritizing my brother and sister. I felt like my mom was being punished for being a single parent,” Villela said.
She was cut off from the pension two years ago.
Access to the funds on behalf of her siblings requires her going through the Bronx surrogate’s court in person, every time, a process she calls torturous.
“It was the same court where my mom worked as a cop for two years, at the Family Court. It was like reliving the trauma every single time, reopening these wounds,” Villela said.
As it stands, the family has five more years of access before the help their mother’s service has been able to afford them runs out.
The only way to change that is through legislation in Albany.
“I’ve contacted multiple senators, New York state senators, and multiple members of the New York State Assembly, and I have been very detailed as to what I need and what the next steps are, and I just hope something can be done,” Villela said.
Rincon also reached out to several lawmakers, but didn’t hear back, and two previous efforts to provide some assistance to this family in particular never got the support it needed.
This is the only known case where a child of a fallen officer in New York City has become the primary caregiver of their siblings.