As far as lawyers go, Paul Bergrin was a rock star. The former prosecutor turned high-powered defense attorney represented the likes of soldiers accused of crimes at Abu Ghraib, the rap stars Lil' Kim and Queen Latifah, and even members of Newark's notorious street gangs. But somewhere along the line, Bergrin went from representing gangsters to becoming one.
Federal officials are saying that their former colleague operated on a very simple principle to ensure a good result for his clients. Prosecutors say the concept boiled down to a phrase he repeated like a slogan: no witnesses, no case.
In an indictment unsealed in United States District Court in Newark, prosecutors accused Mr. Bergrin, 53, of orchestrating the murder of a confidential witness by leaking his name to drug dealers, who shot him in broad daylight on a Newark street corner.
In addition, they charge that Bergrin traveled to Chicago to hire a murderer to kill a witness in another case. He's coached eyewitnesses how to lie so they can sound more believable.
And then there are the payoffs of witnesses to change their stories or leave town on the day they were supposed to be in court.
The charges stunned those that knew the high-profile attorney, who drove a Mercedes and a Bentley, hung out with movie stars, and owned beach homes in New Jersey and the Caribbean.
Typically when an eyewitness shows up dead, it's the defendant or someone connected to him or her that did the killing. This is the first case anyone can remember where the attorney took charge of witness intimidation. Ralph Marra, the acting United States attorney for New Jersey, said, "Mr. Bergrin operated as an outlaw, as sort of a mob leader."
Attorneys representing Mr. Bergrin said that their client would plead not guilty to all 14 counts in the indictment. Four other people who either worked for Mr. Bergrin or with him were also indicted.
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