2009-05-27 / Front Page

Manalapan man faces series of new charges

An alleged drug kingpin who based his operation at his Manalapan home and who is currently in custody facing state drug trafficking charges in Monmouth County was charged in a federal indictment on May 20 with conspiracy to travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise - the alleged drug dealer who sought to benefit from the murder of witnesses against him in the Monmouth County drug case.

The indictment named Vincente Estevez, 36, of Manalapan, who on May 29, 2008, was charged by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office with a number of drug trafficking offenses.

The central figure at the heart of the May 20 federal indictment was defense attorney Paul Bergrin, 53, of Nutley, who was arrested and charged with being the leader of a racketeering conspiracy that included murder of a witness in a drug case, the attempted hiring of a hitman in another drug case, wire fraud and money laundering.

The indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr. in Newark.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney, the 14-count indictment accuses Bergrin of using various legal entities, including the Law Office of Paul W. Bergrin, P.C., to conduct illegal activities, including murder, to protect criminal clients, perpetuate their activities and shield them from prosecution.

The indictment specifically details Bergrin's role in the murder of a confidential witness in an Essex County federal drug case, and his efforts to hire a hitman from Chicago to kill at least one witness in a Monmouth County drug case being prosecuted by the county. That murder never transpired; the "hitman" was a cooperating witness.

Bergrin, a former Essex County assistant prosecutor and Assistant U.S. Attorney between 1985 and 1990, is named in each count of the indictment. He is charged with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy, murder of a federal witness, and conspiracy to murder a federal witness and, separately, witnesses in a state case, as well as Travel Act violations and conspiracy to commit Travel Act violations.

The charges related to the murder of a witness carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. The racketeering charges each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, according to the press release

Also arrested on May 20 and charged in the indictment are:

• Thomas Moran, 42, of Paramus, an attorney with an office in Bergrin's law offices, charged with conspiracy to travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise, and two counts of travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise - all connected to the efforts to hire the Chicago hit man to kill witnesses in the Monmouth County drug case.

• Yolanda Jauregui, also known as Yolanda Bracero, 37, of Nutley (same address as Bergrin), charged in the indictment with wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud, in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme with Bergrin.

• Sundiata Koontz, 37, of West Orange, charged in the indictment with wire fraud conspiracy and five counts of wire fraud, in connection with the mortgage fraud scheme with Bergrin.

According to the indictment and certification filed in court on May 20, in November 2003, Bergrin received the name of a confidential federal informant, who went by the name Kemo, from a client, William Baskerville, and passed along the name to Baskerville's drug trafficking associates. (Baskerville had just been arrested and was in jail on federal drug charges that carried a potential life prison term).

Bergrin allegedly told the drug traffickers at this meeting that if the informant were killed, Bergrin could get Baskerville out of jail and derail the federal prosecution. As he was leaving the meeting, Bergrin instructed the drug traffickers to remember what he had just told them, "No Kemo, no case."

According to the press release, on March 3, 2004, Anthony Young, one of the attendees of Bergrin's meeting, shot the informant three times in the back of the head while the informant attempted to cross the intersection of South Orange Avenue and 19th Street in Newark.

A federal jury convicted Baskerville in 2007 of conspiracy to murder a federal witness and drug trafficking and he was sentenced to life in prison. Young pleaded guilty before the trial, testified against Baskerville, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Chicago hit man/

Monmouth County drug case

On May 29, 2008, Vincente Estevez, of Manalapan, was charged by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office with a number of drug trafficking offenses and was being represented by Bergrin.

According to the indictment, from at least as early as June 2008 through December 2008, Estevez, Bergrin and Moran schemed to locate and kill a number of witnesses that they believed intended to cooperate with the prosecution and testify against Estevez. As in the Baskerville case, the intention, according to the indictment, was to thwart the prosecution, get Estevez out of jail and allow him to resume his drug trafficking business.

In particular, according to the indictment, Bergrin, Estevez and Moran singled out someone known as Junior the Panamanian, whom they believed was cooperating with authorities. Estevez and Bergrin also identified for the hit man two others Estevez wanted killed to prevent their testimony in the Monmouth County case, according to the press release.

On Aug. 5, 2008, Bergrin traveled to Chicago, met with the hit man and identified Junior the Panamanian as the "f—-ing rat" he wanted murdered, according to the indictment.

According to the U.S. Attorney, other meetings in person followed between Bergrin and the hit man. Moran allegedly arranged for Estevez to get a cell phone in jail so he could (and did) communicate directly with the hit man. Moran agreed to obtain a gun for the hit man so that the hit man could kill Junior the Panamanian.

The hit man made numerous recordings of his meetings and conversations with Bergrin and Moran, according to the government's certification. In one of those conversations, on Dec. 8, 2008, Bergrin, the cooperating witness, Moran and Bracero were present, and Bergrin and the cooperating witness discussed that Junior the Panamanian had been located.

According to the government's certification, about the planned murder, the hit man asked Bergrin, "Is it going to help our case or hurt it?" To which Bergrin replied: "It's going to help it. I got it all figured out … Put on a ski mask and make it look like a robbery and take all the money in the house … It cannot under any circumstances look like a hit."

The Mortgage Fraud

As set forth in the indictment, Bergrin and his co-conspirators also agreed to and ultimately obtained fraudulent mortgages on properties in Essex County. The scheme involved providing lending institutions with information that falsely inflated the value of the properties to be mortgaged and falsely portrayed the buyers' credit worthiness. The mortgage fraud scheme caused mortgages worth more than $1.1 million to be issued. Substantially all of those mortgages went into default.

According to the press release, the racketeering charges each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison and a fine of $250,000. The charges related to travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The charges related to wire fraud carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.

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