Trials & Litigation

Client drug dealer tells jury he and lawyer worked on witness hit list and laundering of bail money

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A former client of Paul Bergrin testified Friday that he and the once-prominent New Jersey criminal defense attorney worked together on developing a list of individuals to eliminate as potential witnesses in his pending drug case by murdering them.

Bergrin, a former state and federal prosecutor, also helped him with his tax returns, witness Vicente Esteves told a federal jury in Newark, so that he could launder money to use as bail and to hire lawyers for his co-defendants, the Record reports. Lawyers for other defendants allegedly were supposed to let Bergrin know if potential witnesses decided to testify against Esteves.

Esteves said he and Bergrin worked on the witness hit list in a soundproofed attorney-client meeting room at the Monmouth County Jail, using court records that Bergrin had obtained. Targeted were his former associates, according to Esteves.

His account followed testimony earlier last week by Oscar Cordova, an admitted Latin Kings gang member who says he was brought in from Chicago by Bergrin to develop a plan to execute the contract slayings and wore a government wire while doing so.

Bergrin, who is defending himself at trial, has portrayed witnesses for the government as liars seeking to win concessions from the government.

In cross-examination of Cordova last week, Bergrin was a forceful presence in the courtroom as he elicited testimony that the witness knew how to turn the wire provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on and off, raising the possibility that recorded conversations played for the jury were taken out of context, an earlier Record article reported.

Bergrin also got the witness to admit before the jury that he had lied to the feds, bolstering the attorney’s claim that he knew Cordova was a fraud and was responding in kind to his obvious lies with equally unbelievable contentions, according to the newspaper.

In one recorded conversation played for the jury, Bergrin allegedly tells Cordova, during a claimed restaurant meeting about murdering a witness against Esteves, “No, we gotta make it look like a robbery. It cannot under any circumstances look like a hit.” Later, the lawyer allegedly adds that participants will “have to make it look like a home invasion robbery.”

Bergrin, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act with operating his Newark law office as a criminal enterprise. He is accused of drug trafficking, promoting prostitution, murder, attempted murder of a federal informant and witness tampering.

An earlier trial on some of the same charges ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked.

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

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