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.