Trials & Litigation

Fellow lawyer who took plea tells jury Paul Bergrin tried to 'get to' witnesses against clients


Updated: Convicted for his own role in a claimed New Jersey racketeering enterprise allegedly operated from a Newark law firm, Thomas Moran told a federal jury on Monday that the fellow attorney he once considered his mentor routinely threatened potential witnesses against criminal defense clients, the Record reports.

Paul Bergrin would visit clients in jail every weekend and bring contraband such as cigarettes or porn magazines that could be used by his incarcerated clients like money. And, just as routinely, “He would say, ‘Can we get to the witnesses?’ ” Moran testified. “ ‘Is there someone, one of your affiliates, who can get to the witness and get him not to come to court?’ ”

Asked by prosecutor John Gay to explain what Bergrin was trying to do, Moran said that the clients, often members of violent street gangs that dealt drugs, were part of a world in which those who cooperated with the authorities could pay a high price for doing so.

“There is a criminal credo, or mindset, that there’s no snitching, no cooperation,” Moran testified. “Snitches get stitches. Terminate on sight someone who gives a statement.”

Like other witnesses against Bergrin, a former state and federal prosecutor who says those testifying against him are lying to win concessions from the government, Moran comes to court with issues. In addition to his own 2010 guilty plea in exchange for a maximum 11-year sentence in a related federal case, Moran also admitted to regular drinking and cocaine and marijuana use during a previous trial of Bergrin that ended with a hung jury. A Record article published at the time provides additional details.

Bergrin, who is now in the sixth week of his retrial, is accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by operating his law firm as a racketeering enterprise and engaging in illegal activities including a conspiracy to murder witnesses.

The veteran trial lawyer, who is defending himself, hadn’t yet had a chance to unleash his cross-examination skills on Moran, at the time the Record article was published. However, to Bergrin’s obvious delight, a prior witness against him whose credibility Bergrin also questioned was called back to the stand to admit lies in earlier testimony, the Record notes.

Witness Oscar Cordova, a government informer and admitted Latin Kings gang member, testified last week that an unknown tipster had told the feds the Latin Kings had put a price on his head. But, as he subsequently told the jury, he himself was the anonymous caller who made the death threat, hoping it would save him from having to testify against Bergrin.

Moran allegedly was asked to get a gun for Cordova, who testified that he talked with Bergrin about murdering witnesses and wore a wire while doing so.

A subsequent Record article details Bergrin’s cross-examination of Moran, who at one point worked for Bergrin and was expected to take over much of the practice at his Newark law office.

Bergrin focused, as expected, on Moran’s drug use at that time, but didn’t dominate the exchange as much as he had with prior witnesses, according to the newspaper. Instead, as the Record put it, a “bruising altercation” ensued between Moran, who said he had idolized Bergrin when they worked together, and his former mentor.

“You moved out on me and left me and stopped taking work from me,” contended Bergrin at one point.

“I never did anything but serve you, serve you loyally,” Moran later responded. “And this is where it got me.”

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com (May 2009): “2nd N.J. Attorney Charged re Alleged Law Office Conspiracy to Murder Witness”

ABAJournal.com: “Jury hears law office tape, is told attorney Paul Bergrin talked of witness hits, making $1M weekly”

ABAJournal.com: “Client drug dealer tells jury he and lawyer worked on witness hit list and laundering of bail money”

Updated On Feb. 27 to include subsequent Record coverage.

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