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Former prosecutor guilty of murder, racketeering in New Jersey trial

Paul W. Bergrin, attorney of Specialist Davis gives statement during the second day of an Abu Graibh pre-trial hearing at the U.S. Army Tayl
Paul W. Bergrin, attorney of Specialist Davis gives statement during the second day of an Abu Graibh pre-trial hearing at the U.S. Army Tayl

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A prominent New Jersey defense attorney was convicted by a federal jury on Monday of facilitating a laundry list of crimes through his law firm, including the murder of an FBI informant, drug trafficking and prostitution.

Paul Bergrin, also a former federal prosecutor, was found guilty on all 23 counts he faced at his racketeering trial, according to the Attorney's office in Newark.

The nearly two-month trial was the Justice Department's second effort to prosecute Bergrin, dubbed the "baddest lawyer in the history of Jersey" by New York Magazine. The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury in 2011.

Bergrin was accused of orchestrating the murder of Kemo DeShawn McCray, an FBI informant and witness against one of his clients. Prosecutors also charged him with nearly two dozen other crimes, including racketeering and conspiring to kill other witnesses.

McCray was shot to death in broad daylight on a Newark street in 2004 after Bergrin told a client, "No Kemo, no case," suggesting that without McCray's testimony the client's gang associate would beat criminal charges, prosecutors say.

Bergrin, who represented himself, told the jury at the start of his trial that they should view every government witness with skepticism.

"You'll find in this case conclusively that you can't trust any of the witnesses against me," he told jurors, warning that the witnesses were career criminals who had struck favorable deals with authorities in exchange for their testimony.

The first trial against Bergrin included only the McCray murder charges, after they were severed from the rest of the indictment, but that case ended in a mistrial. An appeals court later ruled the counts need not be separated.

Freed from the restraints of trying separate cases, prosecutors introduced additional evidence against Bergrin in his second trial, including secret recordings of him with an informant discussing a plan to kill a witness and make it look like a home invasion.

They also argued that Bergrin trafficked hundreds of kilograms of cocaine by using his law firm to connect suppliers with distributors and storing cocaine at a restaurant he owned.

Bergrin was also accused of helping Jason Itzler, who gained New York tabloid attention for calling himself the "King of all Pimps," operate a brothel.

Bergrin was arrested in New York in 2007 on charges of promoting prostitution and money laundering, among other crimes, in connection with Itzler's business. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in 2009.

After stints as a state and federal prosecutor, Bergrin became a high-powered defense attorney whose past clients include rapper L'il Kim and a U.S. soldier accused of crimes in Iraq.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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