Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's like The Wire, but in real life!

This guy sounds even more unscrupulous than Maury Levy (although I'm only done with Season 3, so who knows):

[Former prosecutor Paul Begrin] went on to become one of the state’s most prominent defense lawyers, representing clients as varied as Abu Ghraib defendants, the rap stars Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah and members of Newark’s notorious street gangs.

But federal authorities charged Wednesday that the success their former colleague, Paul Bergrin, had in defending drug dealers and gang leaders was based on a brutal calculus that he had boiled down to a phrase he repeated like a slogan: No witnesses, no case.

In an indictment unsealed on Wednesday in United States District Court in Newark, prosecutors accused Mr. Bergrin, 53, of orchestrating the murder of a confidential witness by leaking his name to drug dealers who shot him in broad daylight on a Newark street corner; of traveling to Chicago to hire a murderer to kill a witness in another case; of coaching some eyewitnesses to lie; and of paying others to change their stories or leave town on the day they were to testify.

To prosecutors, the charges are the latest example of the deadly challenge they face protecting witnesses at a time when the criminal justice system has few resources to shield them and the prevailing street code in many cities urges civilians to “stop snitching.”

In late 2003, however, a wiretapped conversation between Mr. Bergrin and one of his clients led prosecutors to view him as not just a legal adversary but a potential defendant.

According to court records, the conversation captured him telling his client’s cousin, one of Newark’s most powerful drug lords, the identity of a confidential witness: Deshawn McCray, known as Kemo. A few days later, the authorities say, Mr. Bergrin met with his client’s cousin again and told him “No Kemo, no case.”

Mr. McCray was shot to death three months later in a brutal ambush, forcing prosecutors to drop the charges against Mr. Bergrin’s client, William Baskerville.

Although the authorities had testimony accusing Mr. Bergrin of providing both the inducement and identity that led to Mr. McCray’s killing, the case could not be prosecuted after a judge ruled — and the prosecutors acknowledged — that they mishandled the wiretap tapes, rendering them inadmissible as evidence.

But as they began examining Mr. Bergrin’s legal work, they now say, they noticed what appeared to be a pattern; in at least four other cases, his clients had been cleared after witnesses were either killed or changed their stories.

Law enforcement officials said that unlike many of the cases Mr. Bergrin is accused of trying to tamper with, which hinged on the testimony of a single witness, the charges against Mr. Bergrin and his four co-defendants were pieced together using a wide assortment of documents, recorded conversations and testimony from numerous witnesses.

“He liked to say ‘No witnesses, no case,’ but we have witnesses, we have evidence and we have a good case,” said Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the New Jersey office of the F.B.I.


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