Ex-NJ prosecutor charged with laundering NYC prostitution money

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NEW YORK (AP) – A former federal prosecutor, a law school student and a former New Jersey state trooper were charged Wednesday with operating a New York City brothel that laundered its profits through fake companies.

The charges against the former prosecutor, Paul Bergrin, of Morganville, N.J., stem from his taking over NY Confidential, a lower Manhattan escort service that one of his clients ran until his arrest in January 2005, prosecutors said.

District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said Bergrin, 51, and co-defendants James Cortopassi, 27, of Morganville, and Hiram Ortiz, 41, of Newark, N.J., took in $1.2 million in prostitution proceeds in the first six months they ran the service.

The proceeds, which included more than $800,000 in credit card charges, were laundered through two shell companies, Gotham Steaks and Tribeca Models LLC, and used to pay the escorts and the defendants, Morgenthau said.

Assistant District Attorney Eugene Hurley, the lead prosecutor on the case, said Bergrin and his associates also enjoyed free sex with the brothel’s women.

The shell companies and NY Confidential were set up by Jason Itzler, a law school graduate, professed business genius and self-described king of New York City’s pimps – and the subject of a lengthy profile in New York magazine.

A former client of Bergrin, Itzler has pleaded guilty to money laundering and attempted promoting of prostitution. He was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday to 18 months to three years in prison.

Itzler, 39, has said he charged $2,000 an hour for one of his best prostitutes, and his business cards called his service “Rocket Fuel for Winners.” He operated out of a downtown loft three blocks from the courthouse where he pleaded guilty.

Two indictments charge the three men with money laundering, promoting prostitution and conspiracy. The indictments span July 2004 to January 2005 and January 2005 until March 2005. Bergrin also is charged with misconduct by an attorney.

Money laundering, the top charge in each indictment, carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison upon conviction.

The first indictment says that while Itzler was on parole in New Jersey, Bergrin and Cortopassi committed fraud against the New Jersey parole board and Manhattan Criminal Court by claiming Itzler had a job in Bergrin’s law office.

Morgenthau said Bergrin claimed Itzler was helping him as a paralegal on the defense of Sgt. Javal S. Davis, a New Jersey Army reservist charged in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case.

The lawyer told parole officials that Itzler worked for him so that he could remain free to run the brothel at night, the district attorney said.

The second indictment charges that Bergrin assumed control of the business after Itzler’s arrest in New York. He and Cortopassi helped Ortiz and an unnamed prostitute keep the business going, Morgenthau said. They closed down in March 2005.

Hurley said Bergrin was an Essex County prosecutor from 1983 through 1987 and an assistant U.S. attorney from 1987 through 1990; Cortopassi is Bergrin’s former law assistant and a student at Michigan State University’s law school; and Ortiz is owner of a Bloomfield, N.J., bar and was a state trooper for three years in the 1990s.

Bergrin and Ortiz were in custody in New Jersey late Wednesday. Hurley said they had not waived extradition and he did not know when they would arrive in New York. He said Cortopassi was expected to surrender later.

Lawyers for Bergrin and Cortopassi didn’t immediately return telephone messages seeking comment Wednesday. Prosecutors said they didn’t know if Ortiz had retained a lawyer.

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