Lawyer Charged With Murder, Drug Dealing and Prostitution Asks to Represent Himself
When Queen Latifah's BMW was jacked in 1995, she called New Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin. When the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal blew open, one of the soldiers involved got a hold of Paul Bergrin too, who represented him pro bono. When reputed mobster Angelo Prisco was indicted on various criminal charges, Paul Bergrin was his man.
When Bergrin was charged with murder, conspiracy, drug dealing, prostitution and witness intimidation, he knew the man who could help: Paul Bergrin.
Bergrin seeks to represent himself in one of the most HBO-worthy trials to ever rock the legal community. After his mother's death on Friday, Bergrin asked U.S. District Judge William Martino to delay his consideration of the issue until he could "think with a clear head," according to Bergrin's current counsel, Lawrence Lustberg, and as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
If Bergrin stands by his request, which Lustberg says he probably will, and if the request is granted, which experts say is likely, then Bergrin will join the "Underwear Bomber," Warren Jeffs, and drug activist NJWeedman in arguing his own defense before the court.
After Begrin's client Jason Itzler, the "King of All Pimps," was jailed in 2005, Bergrin allegedly took over his high-end New York escort service, New York Confidential, which could boast (but tactfully did not) Eliot Spitzer as a big-name client.
Bergrin also allegedly operated a multimillion-dollar cocaine-distribution network with his live-in girlfriend, Yolanda Jauregui, using a Newark restaurant as a front.
The indictment also claims that Bergrin had one witness in a drug case murdered and hired a hit man to kill another. That hit man just happened to be a cooperating government witness, who recorded dozens of their conversations.
When Bergrin was arrested in May 2009, an FBI agent said that he had become "house counsel for a number of criminal organizations, including . . . the Latin Kings, the Bloods, and a number of high-level drug-trafficking organizations."
Bergrin "essentially become one of the criminals he represents," said Ralph Marra, the acting U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
Three former co-defendants, his one-time law partner Thomas Moran, cocaine kingpin Vincente Esteves, and girlfriend Jauregui, have all pled guilty and are cooperating with authorities.
While there are some risks involved in self-representation, it will give Bergrin the chance to cross-examine his former co-defendants, and address the jury without examination through his opening and closing statements.
"The cliche is that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client," Rutgers University Law School Professor George Thomas told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "But this may be the exception that proves the rule."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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