A lawyer from Great Neck charged with suborning perjury in the investigation of a Long Island business executive's role in a 2009 drug-related death was detained without bail Thursday by a Manhattan federal judge who cited cocaine and mental problems.
Lawyer Barry Balaban is charged with getting Nicole Zobkiw of Wantagh to lie to a federal grand jury investigating the role of Thomas Hoey Jr., an executive at Long Island Banana Co. of Lynbrook, in supplying cocaine at an alleged drugs-and-sex party at a Manhattan hotel that ended in the death of Kimberly Calo.
Although Balaban pleaded not guilty, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel said a tape of his comments to Zobkiw was "strong" evidence, and ordered him held after learning that he had a decades-long history of both bipolar disorder and cocaine abuse, had failed two drug tests since he was charged in January -- and was still taking occasional legal cases.
Balaban's attorney, Barry Weinstein, said his client would offer a psychological defense at trial, and described him as the perfect, desperate dupe for someone to use to urge Zobkiw to lie, but wouldn't tell reporters who put Balaban up to it.
"The crime is not something committed as a rational act but under the influence of someone else, and someone else exerts that influence on the weakest link that could possibly be found," said Weinstein.
Calo, identified in news reports as a 41-year-old mother from Glenwood Landing, died on Jan. 10, 2009, at the Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue. Zobkiw, a former receptionist, was also present, and originally told law enforcement investigators that Hoey had supplied cocaine, but later denied it at a grand jury appearance.
She was convicted of perjury on Feb. 6. Prosecutors said they feared Hoey might influence her to flee, but she was freed on bail pending sentencing in June.
Hoey's lawyer, Joseph Conway, has acknowledged that his client is under investigation both for the drugs and the perjury, but says he "categorically and emphatically" denies wrongdoing, and also denies any association with Balaban. Hoey has not been charged.
Balaban, 59, grew up and practiced law in Great Neck but now lives in Queens largely off Social Security disability income, Weinstein said. He has been hospitalized more than 50 times, and harbors delusions that he speaks to Genghis Khan and negotiated a peace treaty between Israel, Turkey and the United States, the lawyer said.
Balaban's sister, who accompanied him to court but declined to give her name, recalled how excited he was to represent Zobkiw in 2011. "I think I have a case," he told her. "Maybe I'll make a few bucks."