Paul Bergrin, the once-prominent Newark lawyer facing charges ranging from murder-for-hire to running of high-end call girl operation, got a new trial date today after a federal appeals court reinstated racketeering charges against him.
Held without bail since his arrest, Bergrin sat impassively in blue prison scrubs and shackles as U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark said jury selection in the case, long delayed by appeals, would start Oct. 11.
Bergrin, 55, was a former federal prosecutor turned high-profile defense attorney whose clients included entertainers like Queen Latifah and Lil’ Kim, as well as U.S. soldiers accused of war crimes in Iraq.
But in 2009, authorities charged him in a bizarre, sweeping indictment that included accusations of the attempted murder of witnesses, his alleged role in a prostitution ring, mortgage fraud and cocaine distribution.
Prosecutors said Bergrin used his law office like a mob operation. They said he sought to hire a hit man from Chicago to kill at least one witness in a Monmouth County drug case he was handling. He was also charged with conspiring to murder an FBI informant who was supposed to testify against another one of Bergrin’s clients — many of whom were drug dealers and gang members.
Several of those charged with Bergrin have quietly pleaded guilty and implicated him in court proceedings. Last August, another lawyer charged in the case, Thomas Moran, admitted he helped run Bergrin’s operation, which authorities say also involved mortgage fraud and drug-running. And in October, Vicente Esteves, a Monmouth County cocaine trafficker, pleaded guilty as well and claimed he conspired with Bergrin to murder a witness. Those cases were not publicized by the U.S. Attorney’s office, generating speculation Moran and Esteves may now be cooperating with the government. The U.S. Attorney’s office has declined to comment about the cases.
Last year, [Judge] Martini dismissed the racketeering charges against Bergrin.
'There is little on the face of the indictment demonstrating relatedness among the varied white-collar frauds and street crimes offered by the government,' Martini wrote, finding the charges were not the work of one coordinated enterprise. But the U.S. Attorney’s office challenged the ruling and earlier this month, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the racketeering charges. Bergrin’s attorney, Lawrence S. Lustberg, said he is seeking a review of the decision.
Simple Justice blawger, Scott H. Greenfield commented yesterday at Bad Lawyer on how it is that a federal judge can reasonably reject a plea deal as being too lenient yet remain impartial, a seeming contradiction. Scott observed that one hoped that the Judge would also remain concerned with governmental overreach in charging a criminal defendant where the Judge found such overreach. In US v. Bergrin, there is an example of a defendant having the full force and weight of the government come down on him, and a federal judge acting to check charges that go beyond the evidence. Or so it seems.