Former lawyer Barry Balaban was sentenced Tuesday in federal court to 4 years in prison for urging a client to commit perjury to obstruct an investigation into Long Island banana mogul Thomas Hoey's role in a drug-related death.
Balaban, 61, who grew up in Great Neck and has long suffered from bipolar disorder and crack addiction, pleaded guilty in January to suborning perjury from client Nicole Zobkiw about a drugs-and-sex party after Hoey allegedly recruited him to approach her.
Balaban's defense lawyer called him the "perfect fall guy," and Balaban, who has been jailed for 15 months, broke down weeping after saying, "I'd just like to say how very, very sorry I am about all of this."
But U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel said that while Balaban's mental and drug problems clearly played a role in his hiring and his vulnerability to manipulation, they did not absolve him of responsibility.
"Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness and yet they conform their conduct to what is required in a civil society," the judge said. "Mr. Balaban knew right from wrong, he knew what he was doing was wrong."
Hoey, 46, of Garden City, the chief executive of the Long Island Banana Co., a regional produce distributor, has been jailed since December on charges that he supplied cocaine that killed Kimberly Calo, 41, of Glenwood Landing, at a party in 2009.
He is also charged with conspiring to suborn perjury, and is charged in a separate case in state court with beating up his girlfriend. Zobkiw was convicted of grand jury perjury in 2013, and is expected to be a key witness against Hoey.
Balaban attended New York University and St. Louis University law school, and became a JAG lawyer in the Navy, but was honorably discharged after his mental illness surfaced, according to his sentencing memorandum.
Castel said Balaban was hospitalized more than 50 times because of his bipolar disorder, which placed limits on his ability to practice law. He met Hoey through a friendship with Hoey's driver, and was paid $2,000 to represent Zobkiw, according to the defense.
Balaban faced a maximum sentence of 5 years on his plea to suborning perjury from Zobkiw, and probation officials recommended a sentence of 30 months. He will get credit for the 15 months already served, and Castel ordered continuing drug and mental treatment after his release. He resigned from the bar after he was charged.