Dominic Barbara, from brash to broke, seeks comeback

The lawyer, whose license has been suspended and whose clients have included Michael Lohan, Jessica Hahn and Joey Buttafuoco, is aiming to market a weight-loss pill. Videojournalist: Amanda Voisard (Sept. 24, 2012)

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Dominic Barbara had everything. Now he has almost nothing. Once Long Island's most outlandish lawyer and a brash example of conspicuous consumption, he has lost it all -- even his legal practice -- and is hoping for redemption as a diet pill entrepreneur.

Back in the day, he commanded the spotlight with clients in sensational cases. There was Jessica Hahn, the church secretary from Massapequa who brought down televangelist Jim Bakker when she said he'd drugged and raped her. There was Joey Buttafuoco, whose teen lover Amy Fisher put a bullet in wife Mary Jo's head. More recently, there was the widower of a woman who drove drunk the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway, killing seven others.

He's not a lawyer anymore. He's about 160 pounds lighter. He's engaged to be married for the fifth time. And at age 67, he's penniless, homeless and buried in debt.

"I was always a good person," he said, eating a light dinner at the Garden City Hotel. "I got out of control. My ego got out of control."

He attributes his downfall to three addictions -- alcohol, Vicodin and fame. The last one has always been a problem; he said the first two developed after knee surgery in 2010.

His old bulk and how he lost it may help him get rich again, he said, thanks to a diet supplement he has helped develop and hopes to market.

He also hopes to regain his law license, a quest that may be complicated by a recent contempt-of-court arrest for trying to contact his fourth wife through her lawyer.

He is more interested in other people now, he said. "I feel like a human being. I was more interested in Dominic before. I love myself now -- but I love myself for good reason."

He put his face in his hands and continued, "The old Dominic hurt Dominic."

The old Dominic was huge, in every sense.

He'd roll up to court in one of his Bentleys and park illegally. He had a mansion on the water in Glen Cove, a big house on Shelter Island and another in West Hills, near Long Island's highest point. He had custom-made suits to accommodate his 330 pounds.

Now he lives at a friend's house in Old Westbury, having just moved out of the hotel, where he could stay only because of the generosity of friends and former clients. His clothes fit in two suitcases. He has some family photos, his Bible and a mountain of press clippings and videos of himself in action.

"These are my friends," he said of the collection, in his Joe Pesci voice. "They're my memories."

 

A life unraveled

His last car is in the shop and unlikely to leave any time soon because he can't afford to fix it. The Shelter Island house is lost to foreclosure, now a gutted ruin with a spectacular view of Gardiners Bay.

After the knee surgery, he said, he quickly developed a Vicodin addiction. By 2011, he said, he was completely out of control and ended up with his law license suspended for 18 months because of sloppy billing practices. He said he tried and failed to kill himself by overdosing on Vicodin.

He retreated to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. "I went from a 15,000-square-foot home on the water in Glen Cove to a 900-square-foot condo," he said.

He drank a quart of vodka a day. He stopped showering. "I had four or five dinners a night," he said, and decided to try to kill himself again.

He was going to jump off his balcony. "But I'm too fat to get over the rail," he said. He got a chair and stood on it, but then looked to his right. "I see my mother, dead 20 years -- not a ghost or a vision. She was there. She was crying. So I got off the chair and I lie down on the floor, and I slept for three days."

Eventually, his daughter called the cops when she couldn't reach him, and they broke in and put him in what he called a "drunk hospital."

 

Rediscovering faith

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After he got out, he met a woman in her 80s by the pool in Florida, an evangelical Christian and ex-member of Bakker's church who said she was going to teach him the Bible.

Barbara -- raised a Catholic and a convert to Judaism when he married his first wife -- agreed. Before he knew it, he said he'd found Jesus and had been born again. He said he now reads the Bible at least an hour a day. His fiancee, Pamela Gorin, 37, is Jewish, so he says he'll be a Reform Jew but won't give up his Bible habit.

"I missed all the signs from God," he said. "I was more interested in buying Bentleys."

He rhapsodized over Gorin, who works in truck sales. "I would have preferred to marry a rich woman," he joked, but he is clearly besotted by her. "Pamela is the innocence and the purity I'm trying to recapture."

Having found Jesus and Pamela, he began to lose weight.

 

He said he lost the first 142 pounds by eating only 1,000 calories a day and using his supplement, which he calls a "vitamin." The last 20 pounds or so happened last week through liposuction.

He has high hopes for the supplement with active ingredients that are a blend of green bean coffee extract and raspberry ketones, the latest trendy fat burner. Dr. Victor Chehebar, a neurologist with an interest in nutrition, said he developed it.

"I'm going to sell a lot of it, because I'm a good salesman," Barbara said. He said his friend Howard Stern will let him promote it on his radio show.

No one is willing to bet against him publicly, but some who have known him well worry about him.

"You knew this was going to happen," a longtime colleague said about Barbara's crash.

Others say he could pull it off.

"He's sui generis [unique]," said William Keahon, a prominent attorney who has known Barbara since they studied law together at St. John's. "I respect his tenacity. No question, he can make a comeback."

Bruce Barket, who credits Barbara with boosting his practice in 1997 by referring a defendant to him in a racially motivated beating in Westhampton Beach, said he's pulling for him.

"His shtick notwithstanding, he is one of the most intelligent lawyers I've known," he said. "He was a formidable, cunning attorney."

 

Waiting for his moment

Until the diet supplement hits the marketplace and he applies to regain his law license to start a modest practice, Barbara has time to reflect.

"I have very few friends," he said he's realized. "I have a lot of acquaintances." And that's the way it should be, he said. "My life will be a lot simpler."

He said he lost his law license not because he was sloppy, but because he thought he was above the rules. "The bottom line is, I got suspended because I was out of control," he said. "Do you think I had a right to park my Bentley illegally outside the courthouse? It was disgusting."

After that dinner at the hotel, he brought a visitor to the fifth-floor room he was still using. From a pile on the dresser, he pulled out a DVD of a "People's Court"-type show called "Power of Attorney" on which he starred, and he watched himself admiringly for a bit.

Finally, Gorin arrived and she settled into bed. He went to the closet and pulled out a pair of 62-inch-waist pants from his old life, which he said he'd use in an infomercial to show how much weight he'd lost.

The visitor joked that they looked like clown pants.

He laughed ruefully. "Yeah. I was a clown."

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