N.J. Prosecutor Turned Criminal Is Sentenced to Six Life Prison Terms
Bergrin, 57, was a U.S. Army judge advocate general, an assistant Essex County prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney in Newark. In private practice he defended notable clients, including a soldier court-martialed in connection with the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal.
Bergrin was originally charged in a May 2009 federal indictment. Aside from the witness tampering, he was accused of browbeating the 9-year-old daughter of a client, Noberto Velez, into falsely testifying for him in his trial on charges of stabbing his estranged wife.
Other charges included helping client Jason Itzler run a call-girl ring, New York Confidential, by creating a false paralegal position at his firm in order to facilitate interstate travel, and operating illegitimate businesses, including Isabella's Restaurant in Newark, where federal authorities seized dozens of kilograms of cocaine in 2009.
Bergrin's first trial, on only the McCray murder counts, ended in late 2011 with a hung jury.
Prosecutors were successful in having U.S. District Judge William Martini removed from the case because of the appearance of anti-prosecution bias. Martini had dismissed three RICO counts — though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated them — and, at Bergrin's behest, severed counts related to the McCray murder and ordered them tried first, reasoning that the jury might convict Bergrin based on other, later evidence. Martini also excluded chunks of prosecution evidence and, after the mistrial, ordered a second severance splitting off the RICO counts from the Esteves and drug-trafficking counts, again citing prejudice concerns.
Cavanaugh was assigned in August 2012 and allowed much of the prosecution evidence that Martini had excluded, and ordered trial on all the counts together, except charges of filing false tax returns, which prosecutors previously agreed to try separately.