N.J. lawyer guilty of racketeering, murder

March 20, 2013 at 3:42 PM
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NEW JERSEY, N.J., March 20 (UPI) -- A prominent New Jersey defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor faces the prospect of life in prison after being convicted of racketeering and murder.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Newark deliberated for two days before finding Paul Bergrin, 57, guilty on all 23 counts Monday, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported. The charges ranged from racketeering, murder, conspiracy to murder and drug dealing to tax violations.

He faces a mandatory life prison term when he is sentenced July 18, The New York Times reported.

Federal prosecutors said Bergrin ran a criminal conspiracy from his Newark law office.

A former Army officer, Bergrin served as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey from 1987 to 1990. In private practice, he represented high-profile clients such as Queen Latifah and Lil' Kim as well as one of the soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who worked with Bergrin in the late 1980s, watched the announcement of the verdict.

"His conduct over the last many years was a betrayal of his former law enforcement colleagues and the court," Fishman said.

Bergrin represented himself in the lengthy trial, assisted by Lawrence Lustberg, a veteran defense lawyer.

Joseph Hershorn, a juror interviewed by The Star-Ledger, believed Bergrin made a serious mistake.

"The risk is that you show character. As smart as he is and he thinks he is, you cannot totally disguise who you are," Hershorn said, adding "Without the buffer of a defense attorney, you have witnesses saying, 'No, Paul, this is what you did to me; this is what you said to me.' "

Lustberg said Bergrin plans to appeal.

"Obviously this is a very disappointing verdict," he said. "It's also surprising. We had thought that the jury would take much longer, given the number and complexity of the charges. And Mr. Bergrin is very concerned that all of his arguments and all of the nuances of the evidence were not fully considered."

An earlier trial on some of the counts Bergrin faced in 2011 ended in a hung jury. Lustberg said a ruling allowing a single trial was mistaken and will be one of the grounds for appeal.

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