Ex-Federal Prosecutor Indicted for Ordering Hit on Witness

Update: DOJ press release and Indictment available here.

This is quite a story. Paul Bergrin, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey (whose father was a police officer) has spent the past several years defending gang members and drug dealers. He pleaded guilty to running an escort service. Apparently, he was also under federal investigation.

Now he's got much bigger troubles. A federal grand jury in New Jersey has indicted him for racketeering and ordering the murders of two snitches who planned to testify against his clients. The charges also include witness tampering and mortgage fraud.

"The conduct alleged is simply shocking," said Ralph Marra, the acting New Jersey U.S. attorney. "A licensed lawyer, a former prosecutor, essentially became one of the criminals he represents."

Bergrin, a one-time lieutenant to self-proclaimed "King of All Pimps" Jason Itzler, had a government informant gunned down in an attempt to derail a federal case against one of his drug-dealer clients, prosecutors say.

In the second murder attempt, [More...]

Bergrin, who was an assistant New Jersey U.S. attorney from 1985 to 1990, also is accused of trying to hire a Chicago hitman last year to kill a "rat" known as Junior the Panamanian. "Paul Bergrin met with the hit man and instructed the hit man to make the murder of Junior the Panamanian appear as if it were part of a home invasion robbery rather than the execution of a witness," the indictment charged.

The "hit man" turned out to be a confidential informant.

It doesn't seem like Bergrin was expecting the indictment. He was arrested at home. He's got a great lawyer, New York's Gerald Shargel:

His lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said Bergrin planned to plead not guilty. "These are very serious charges, and we will mount a serious defense," he said.

Bergrin's had some famous clients along the way:

His clients have included Queen Latifah, rap mogul Lil' Kim and Javal Sean Davis, a soldier convicted of mistreating detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Shargel may have his work cut out for him, but it also seems like the government's case rests on informants who agreed to help snare Bergrin after being busted (and in one case convicted) for their own misdeeds. I assume they have Bergrin on tape ordering hits on witnesses, but perhaps he was role-playing for one misguided reason or another. Time will tell. The indictment contains merely charges, not evidence, and Bergrin is presumed innocent.

Update: From the New York Times:

Law enforcement officials said that unlike many of the cases Mr. Bergrin is accused of trying to tamper with, which hinged on the testimony of a single witness, the charges against Mr. Bergrin and his four co-defendants were pieced together using a wide assortment of documents, recorded conversations and testimony from numerous witnesses.

Testimony, if its from snitches and cooperators, and recorded conversations, if merely with snitches and cooperators, aren't impressive. The documents, on the other hand, depending on what they are, could be. I'll have more after I track down and read the indictment.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Be interesting to see (none / 0) (#1)
    by Fabian on Thu May 21, 2009 at 03:38:50 PM EST
    how this story unfolds.  I don't find the story implausible.  For some people, winning is everything.  

    Wow (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Thu May 21, 2009 at 03:39:10 PM EST
    Gotta watch out for those rogue criminal defense attorneys!  ;)

    It has always amazed me (none / 0) (#3)
    by NYShooter on Thu May 21, 2009 at 03:48:27 PM EST
    how supposedly savvy people always hire Government Informants to do their killings.

    allegedly hire......

    its hard (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jen M on Thu May 21, 2009 at 04:54:11 PM EST
    to find good help these days?

    Very similar case... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Ethan Brown on Thu May 21, 2009 at 03:50:18 PM EST
    with a connection to Shargel as well.

    Simels has represented Kenneth "Supreme" McGrif and the hip-hop label Murder Inc.

    Shargel repped Murder Inc in their big money money laundering case at the end of '05...they were acquitted on all charges.

    www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=27896:simels-is-i ndicted-for-witness-tampering&catid=19:lewisboro-news&Itemid=955

    Wish you had mentioned (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Thu May 21, 2009 at 03:55:39 PM EST
    that the magistrate denied him bail, pending a bail hearing next week, apparently because this is a capital murder charge.  There has been no determination (as yet) as to whether they will seek capital punishment.

    And that another lawyer in his office building (an office-sharing arrangement, apparently) also was indicted.

    Moreover, before anyone gets all snarky on the charges, let's remember:

    (a) he is exposed to capital punishment for the dead witness (yes, really);
    (b) he has been a highly effective defendant's lawyer for about 20 years.

    Responding to an earlier commenter, this is not necessarily about Bergrin being all "winning is everything" - the NJ.com report TL linked to (the front page of the Star-Ledger) indicates there has been bad blood between Bergrin and the US Attorneys' office since about a year before he left:

    In 1987, he joined the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark. Two year later, Bergrin infuriated his fellow federal prosecutors by testifying on behalf of an investigator from the Essex County Prosecutors Office who was charged by the U.S. Attorney's office with extorting a cocaine dealer.

    The investigator was convicted, despite Bergrin's testimony that he "had a reputation for truth, veracity and integrity." Bergrin resigned from the U.S. Attorney's office the following year, claiming his superiors had ostracized him.

    OK?  While an AUSA, he was called as a defense witness and gave character testimony favorable to a defendant, a cop.  This infuriated his co-workers.

    I don't know as to the specifics of the charges, but there would seem to have been knives out for him for a long time.

    But, I view this as of a piece with the other governmental actions against defense lawyers which we have seen over the last 8 years.

    A less slanted lead might read: (none / 0) (#7)
    by RonK Seattle on Thu May 21, 2009 at 05:21:54 PM EST
    "Defense Attorney Indicted for Ordering Hit on Witness"

    After all, defense counsel is his current and long-time occupation, and is the role in which he (allegedly) did the evil deeds.

    It's a detail of interest that he was once as AUSA, but not headline or lead graf material (at least absent reason to suspect him of similar alleged deeds in his former occupation).

    Former federal prosecutor (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Thu May 21, 2009 at 10:56:13 PM EST
    Indicted for crimes he allegedly committed on behalf of clients whom he was defending in criminal matters.