Paul Bergrin was sentenced to life in prison on Monday in Newark federal court.
Bergrin, the prominent former Newark attorney whose client list once included US soldiers, suspected drug dealers and rapper Lil Kim, was found guilty by a federal jury in Newark Monday on nearly two dozen counts, including murder and racketeering, in March.
“Paul Bergrin’s betrayal of the people he once served, the court and the rule of law was stunning,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a press statement. “Each criminal choice he made was a step toward life in prison. After all he did to elude punishment for his clients - including orchestrating the murder of witnesses - he could not avoid facing justice for his own crimes.”
Bergrin, a former prosecutor who rose to fame both for his flamboyant style and his defense of US soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse case in 2004, was accused of narcotics and other charges, including witness tampering and murder.
Bergrin, once dubbed "the baddest lawyer in the history of New Jersey," represented himself throughout his trial and repeatedly attempted to discredit these and other witnesses, including a woman who said she was coached to lie in court by Bergrin when she was a grade-school student in Belleville a decade ago. In his lengthy closing argument, Bergrin argued that the case was inconsistent and composed of fabrications and smears.
The flamboyant 57-year-old lawyer, a former Nutley resident, has been on a legal odyssey since 2011, when he first stood trial for facilitating the 2004 murder in Newark of a witness against one of his clients. That proceeding ended in a mistrial, setting up Bergrin’s most recent foray into court, which began nearly two months ago.
In addition to
arranging the murder of Kemo DeShawn McCray, the former federal prosecutor was
also accused of trafficking cocaine, running a call-girl ring, witness
tampering, attempted murder, racketeering and other charges.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Bergrin’s modus operandi was to eliminate witnesses against his clients. Some of those clients ended up testifying against Bergrin. Among them were Richard Pozo, a major New York-area drug kingpin, and Vincente Esteves, who ran a drug operation stretching from South America to Europe.
Bergrin faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison on each of the following counts: count three, violent crimes in aid of racketeering; count 12, conspiring to murder a federal witness to prevent his testimony at an official proceeding; and count 13, aiding and abetting the murder of a federal witness to prevent testimony at an official proceeding. He also faced a maximum term of life in prison on three other counts.
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI working under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford and the IRS's Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent Shantelle P. Kitchen and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey Division working under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Carl J. Kotowski, with the investigation.