PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The U.S. government has enough evidence to support racketeering charges against a former New Jersey federal prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer who is accused of plotting the murders of two witnesses, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
Paul Bergrin and seven co-defendants were originally charged in a 39-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in November 2009. Prosecutors said Bergrin ran an "extensive criminal enterprise" through his law firms and helped clients take out the witnesses against them.
Last year, a New Jersey federal judge dismissed the three racketeering charges against the defendants, but the federal appeals court reversed the decision Tuesday. A three-judge appellate panel in Philadelphia said the government adequately pleaded a violent racketeering conspiracy.
When one client, William Baskerville, was arrested for cocaine distribution, Bergrin identified the government's witness and shared that information with Baskerville's associates, according to the indictment. "Bergrin relayed that information to W.B.'s drug associates along with his own message that if they killed K.D.M., he could assure that W.B. escaped prison, but if they did not, W.B. would spend the rest of his life in jail," Judge Thomas Hardiman wrote for the 3rd Circuit. "Those associates subsequently murdered K.D.M."
Bergrin allegedly helped another client facing drug charges, Vicente Esteves, murder the witness against him. After Esteves paid $20,000 each to Bergrin and some of the lawyer's associates, that cadre met with and instructed a hitman, the indictment states.
To help one client facing robbery charges, Bergrin and his associates helped bribe a witness to change his or her testimony, according to the indictment.
Because federal racketeering law "casts such a wide net, RICO's reach can be exceptionally broad," Hardiman found, noting that the Supreme Court "has consistently declined" to limit RICO's reach.
Bergrin, along with three other individuals, are alleged to have engaged in witness tampering, murder, conspiracy to commit murder, bribery, drug trafficking, prostitution, wire fraud and money laundering, among other crimes. In addition to the two witness's murders, and one witness's payoff, the indictment accuses Bergrin of selling a house with fraudulently obtained mortgage loans and trafficking cocaine through a "stash house."
"The indictment adequately alleges all of the sub-elements required to establish both a pattern of racketeering activity and an enterprise, as well as all of the other elements of a RICO offense," Hardiman wrote.
The ruling also notes that the law firm that allegedly committed all these acts, Bergrin Legal Enterprises, has a "versatility that provides even stronger evidence that it was an ongoing association formed to pursue criminal activities."
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