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Disbarred attorney trying to get license reinstated says prison saved life

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Charleston attorney Dante DiTrapano told a hearing board that serving time in prison probably saved his life, putting him on the path to sobriety and hopefully to getting his law license reinstated.

DiTrapano, 50, who was disbarred in 2007 following a guilty plea to a federal felony firearms charge, has struggled with addiction most of his life. He said he has been sober since 2007 and though he now works as a paralegal at The Calwell Practice on Charleston's West Side, he'd like to elevate his role to attorney.

He petitioned the state Supreme Court last summer to reinstate his license and appeared Wednesday with his attorney, Robert Davis, at the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Kanawha City for the second of two hearings.

The hearing board heard testimony Wednesday from witnesses, including DiTrapano's public defender, Mary Lou Newberger, and his wife, Teri. DiTrapano also testified on his own behalf.

Dante said he experimented with alcohol and drugs when he was young but got sober after that. He went to addiction recovery meetings daily while he was in law school in Georgia, a practice that continued when he began practicing law in West Virginia.

He was sober for 15 years, from 1989 until 2004. His wife, Teri, said the cough syrup prescribed by a doctor who'd heard Dante's cough while at a football game led him to relapse. Dante said not regularly attending meetings weakened him, making it easier for him to fall back into addiction.

The cough syrup led to harder drugs, he said. He wanted to get help but didn't want it to interfere with how he wanted to live his life.

He eventually did get help, but it was at the Federal Corrections Institution in Morgantown.

He said when he got to the prison he realized he'd put himself there.

"That saved my life, I'm glad it happened to me," Dante said. "When (now retired U.S. District Judge David) Faber gave me 24 months, and I went to Morgantown, I knew I needed to get my life together," Dante said. "I had nothing left. I needed to turn my life around."

The judge requested he be admitted to the Bureau of Prison's Resident Drug Abuse program (RDAP), a nine-month drug rehabilitation program. He completed it and later led Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for inmates at the prison.

He said the devastation his addiction caused in his life was unbelievable.

He started attending church services while in prison and more regularly when he was released and living in a halfway house in Rand. His children started going to church after seeing him change. They now attend church regularly as a family and later enjoy a meal most often at Suzi's Hamburgers.

"I don't believe Dante is ever going to use again," Teri said during her emotional testimony. "I think people have missed six great years of his lawyering worrying about that."

She said their family relationships have improved and that he now has a close relationship with God.

He's made amends with her and her father, James Coleman, who testified for Dante at the March 27 hearing. Coleman, who also has struggled with addiction, drove Dante to and from work and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings while he was living at the halfway house.

She said Dante going to federal prison "absolutely had to happen."

Teri gave an emotional testimony about the time her husband went to federal prison and the time they feared he would have to return.

Teri said she and Dante were terrified when he received a target letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2008. Dante was still living in a halfway house when he received the letter that eventually led to the 2009 proceedings where he pleaded guilty to providing a false statement to a bank.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston sentenced him to one day in custody and five years supervised release. He will remain on supervised release until 2015.

If his law license is reinstated he plans to stay on at The Calwell Practice, where he's been offered a position as an attorney. Stuart Calwell, who operates the firm, told the hearing board in March he would supervise Dante and that if he slipped up he would report him.

Dante said he wants to be able to provide a modest living for his family and support his children and grandchildren. He also would like to help his daughter, who recently graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in biology, pay for medical school.

"I am driven to be all in on this — all in on my recovery," Dante said. "I am driven to continue to do the things I'm doing in my life."

The hearing board will make a determination and give a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which will then render a decision.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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