From federal prosecutor to accused violent gangster, pimp, and drug-dealer…That’s the unusual career trajectory taken, say the Feds, by Paul Bergrin, who was indicted earlier this month in a 39-count racketeering indictment.
In a drama that could have been made for HBO, Bergrin — a white-collar defense lawyer who once represented, pro bono, a solider accused of abusing Abu Ghraib detainees — seems to have allowed his gangster clients to drag him into a world of violent crime. And he may have gone a lot further than Maury Levy ever did for Stringer Bell.
Bergrin, a former AUSA with the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, is charged with leading a criminal enterprise that used violence, intimidation, and deceit to generate millions of dollars, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Among the most eye-catching allegations against him:
- That he used a Newark restaurant as a front for a cocaine-distribution network.
- That he oversaw a $1,000-an-hour call-girl ring in New York City.
- That he had a witness killed in one drug case, and hired a hitman to kill another.
You can read a key portion of the indictment here.
Bergrin was first arrested in May. His lawyers have argued in court papers that prosecutors have tied together baseless cases. And they have argued successfully to have Bergrin removed from solitary confinement, where he had been held after his arrest in May. But since a more detailed indictment was filed earlier this month, they have said little publicly.
According to an affidavit from an FBI agent, Bergrin came to serve as “house counsel for a number of criminal organizations, including … the Latin Kings, the Bloods, and a number of high-level drug-trafficking organizations.” And Bergrin had “essentially become one of the criminals he represents,” according to Ralph Marra, the acting U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
His client list has also included Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, and mobster Angelo Prisco, as well as a U.S. soldier accused of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, who Bergrin represented pro bono. Bergrin also repped the “King of All Pimps,” Jason Itzler, who ran the high-end New York escort service, New York Confidential, that proved to be Eliot Spitzer’s undoing. (Itzler called Ashley Dupre, “one of the best hookers ever.”) Indeed, prosecutors allege that Bergrin took over the management of the company after Itzler was jailed in 2005.
A retired Army Reserve major and the son of a New York City police officer, Bergrin, 53, was an Essex County prosecutor who later worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, before starting a criminal defense practice in 1991.
But he may have offered his clients more than just legal representation. The Inquirer reports:
Though the indictment includes one murder and one murder conspiracy, investigators contend that witnesses have linked Bergrin to at least three other homicides.
They also say Bergrin routinely bribed witnesses to win cases. And, they contend, when bribery wasn’t an option, he resorted to violence.
“No witness, no case” was the phrase he used repeatedly in his criminal-defense work, authorities say.
In addition to the charges related to bribery, witness intimidation, and running the escort service, Bergrin also allegedly used a Newark restaurant, Isabella’s, as a front for drug dealing; and formed a real estate company that conducted phony mortgage deals.
Bergrin’s undoing may have come when he allegedly smuggled a cellphone into a jail so a client could call a Chicago hitman to set up the murder of a witness. Bergrin himself then traveled to Chicago to meet with the hitman, say the Feds.
But the hitman was a cooperating witness. According to prosecutors, he recorded Bergrin saying things like: “Put on a ski mask and make it look like a robbery… . It cannot under any circumstances look like a hit … make it look like a home-invasion robbery.”
The hitman also recorded a conversation in which he told another lawyer, working with Bergrin, that Bergrin wanted to personally take part in the hit.
“He said he wants to do it with me,” the hitman said “I said, ‘No, Paul. For what you went to law school to become … stick with that s-.’ Let me do what I have to do.’ “
Replied the other lawyer: “Paul’s a stone killer, bro… . That’s what he is… . He’s done work [meaning, committed murder], bro.”
One underworld source, a former Bergrin client, told the Inquirer that Bergrin “enjoyed life on the edge.” Sounds like he may have enjoyed it just a little too much.