NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – A defense attorney and former federal prosecutor whose clients have included rap stars and a soldier at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was charged Wednesday with arranging the killing of one witness and trying to hire a hit man to kill another.

Paul Bergrin is accused of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering in a 14-count federal indictment.

Four others also are named in the indictment as participants in an alleged racketeering conspiracy that prosecutors characterized as a criminal enterprise that also engaged in witness tampering, money laundering and drug trafficking.

“He employed every illegal tool available to keep murderers and drug dealers on our streets,” acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said of Bergrin. “His mantra was, ‘No witness, no case.”‘

Bergrin has represented Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifah and other rap stars. He also represented Sgt. Javal S. Davis, a New Jersey soldier who served about four months in a military prison in 2005 for mistreating Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Bergrin, 53, is a former Essex County Assistant Prosecutor who also worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Newark between 1985 and 1990. Marra said Wednesday there was no indication that any of the cases Bergrin worked on as a prosecutor were compromised. Through a spokesman, the two remaining attorneys for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office who worked with Bergrin declined comment.

FBI agents were seen searching Bergrin’s Newark office Wednesday afternoon.

Bergrin appeared before U.S. Magistrate Madeline Cox Arleo in handcuffs with the other defendants. He will be jailed pending a bail hearing next week.

“He is claiming his innocence,” Bergrin’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, said. “These are very serious charges and we are going to mount a serious defense.”

Prosecutors say Bergrin gave the name of a federal informant to associates of a suspect Bergrin was defending in a drug case.

The informant, known by the nickname “Kemo,” was shot three times on a Newark street in 2004 by one of the associates, according to the indictment.

In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Bergrin called the allegations baseless and said he needed to tell the suspect who the informant was in order to judge the man’s credibility as a potential witness. He also said the informant had made numerous enemies on the street, any of whom could have killed him.

In the interview, Bergrin defended his no-holds-barred style, saying, “I have absolutely no fear of challenging authority when it needs to be challenged. I don’t fear the consequences as long as I’m within the boundaries of the law. That’s what makes me better than most other attorneys.”

The other murder plot outlined in the indictment involved a 2008 drug case in which Bergrin is alleged to have had numerous conversations with a confidential informant about killing a man, known as “Junior the Panamanian,” who was scheduled to testify against his client.

“I got it all figured out,” Bergrin allegedly said on a call taped by the informant. “Put on a ski mask and make it look like a robbery and take all the money out of the house.”

Moran, whose office is on the same floor as Bergrin’s, is charged with taking part in the racketeering conspiracy. Two others, Yolanda Jauregui and Sundiata Koontz, face wire fraud and conspiracy counts. A fifth defendant, Vicente Esteves, is charged with being a part of the racketeering conspiracy for his alleged role in a plot to kill a witness in the 2008 drug case.

Their attorneys were not immediately available for comment.

Bergrin has been no stranger to controversy over the last two decades. In the early 1990s he was indicted for evidence tampering while serving as a defense lawyer. Those charges ultimately were dismissed.

Two weeks ago, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy to promote prostitution in exchange for three years probation and a $50,000 money forfeiture.


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