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Shelter Island to take rare step of remediating disgraced lawyer's 'nuisance property'

The front door of the home on Ram

The front door of the home on Ram Island Drive has been padlocked. Credit: Randee Daddona

Shelter Island officials plan to board up and secure the abandoned, vermin-infested house owned by former celebrity lawyer Dominic Barbara, a rare action taken in a town where property values usually far exceed the cost of repairing a nuisance property.

Barbara, once a flamboyant attorney representing infamous clients like Joey Buttafuoco and Jessica Hahn, has allowed the waterfront Ram Island Drive home to deteriorate over the years. The interior is gutted, an elevated deck has no rail around its perimeter and the uncovered, algae-filled outdoor swimming pool is not properly fenced, according to photos taken by town officials and a memo provided to town board members. The plywood floor is not fastened to the floor joists, there is evidence of a raccoon or rodent infestation and the house is unfit for human habitation under New York State Property Maintenance Code, according to the memo.

“The weeds are almost as tall as the roof on one side,” said senior town building inspector Chris Tehan. “Every time I go there, different windows and doors are open.”

Tehan said the town would have to take out overgrown vegetation to make the property accessible for emergency vehicles and that officials will likely need to knock down the deck that has no railing and fill in the pool. He stressed that no decision has been made about what work will be done.

Barbara, 72, who once rolled up to courthouses in Bentleys and was a frequent caller on “The Howard Stern Show,” has not practiced law since 2011, when his license was suspended for improper billing practices. In a 2012 Newsday interview, he attributed his downfall to alcohol, Vicodin and fame addictions.

Barbara purchased the home in 1988, according to town records, but it went into foreclosure several years ago. The property was transferred in 2013 and Barbara and his children, Jason Barbara and Elyse Figueiredo, are now listed as the owners.

The home’s value was assessed at $3,329,600 by the town earlier this year.

Neither Barbara nor his children could be reached for comment Thursday.

Tehan presented photos and a report on the property to the town board during a work session Tuesday. The board expressed support for remediating the property, and members said they planned to vote in favor of a resolution authorizing the plan at an upcoming meeting.

If the town performs the work, a lien will likely be placed on the home to recoup the cost, Tehan said.

Tehan said he could only recall two other times in his 13 years with the department that the town took action at a nuisance property.

“If people get into financial issues, they can sell it [their home] and make a profit,” he said.

Supervisor Gary Gerth said Barbara had given verbal consent to remedy the property, though the town will still need formal access. He noted Barbara’s previous ties and contributions to the community.

“He’s done some great pro bono work for some of the folks in need out here,” Gerth said.

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