“I loved and trusted Paul,” Itzler summed up. “The one thing I never expected was for him to leave me to rot on Rikers Island while he put the agency in his name and took it over completely. I probably should have seen it coming, but I was so high on Special K I didn’t know which end was up.”
Back in 2005, Bergrin was happy to talk about NY Confidential, but he asked if we could meet near Mount Sinai hospital. He was tired of the law, Bergrin said. Thinking he might better serve his fellow man as a doctor, he told me he was attending medical school. Wearing a slick blue suit and red tie, his thick mat of dyed black hair receding from an expansive forehead, Bergrin was friendly in a gold-cuff-link way, handing me the phone number of the famous Natalia, NY Confidential’s much-ballyhooed No. 1 attraction. “You’ll like her,” he said with a wink. Then, checking his watch, he said he had go to class. It was a basically uneventful conversation, except Bergrin was apparently not attending Mount Sinai or any other such institution. Why he went through all the trouble I never knew.
Bergrin’s 2007 arrest in the NY Confidential case, in which he was charged with laundering more than $800,000 in the agency’s proceeds, was the first tangible clue to many on Park Place that the lawyer had seriously jumped the tracks. What wasn’t a surprise was the sex angle. Said one longtime associate, “Paul didn’t drink, didn’t take drugs, but with women, he was a madman. White, black, skinny, fat, good-looking, ugly, crack whores, how and where, it didn’t matter. He’d make this cocktail, Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and wash it down with Red Bull. He said it made you fuck all night. I told him he was going to give himself a heart attack, but he didn’t care.”
Central to Bergrin’s hectic love life was his longtime mistress and alleged partner in the dope business, the diminutive Yolanda Jauregui, with whom he shared an apartment in Nutley while maintaining his stately home in Marlboro with his wife, Barbara, and their children.
“Yolanda had Paul by the balls. He was probably supporting most of her family,” said one lawyer.
Even though Yolanda was insanely jealous, Bergrin continued to screw around. Said one lawyer, “I come in the office, and Paul is totally on edge. He says he has a chick up at the Robert Treat Hotel and gives me a couple hundred to get rid of her. I knock, this hand comes out, snatches the money, and the door slams. Then I hear, ‘Tell that fuck it’s going to take a lot more than that.’ I told Paul, and he flipped. He said if Yolanda found out, she was going kill him. She might have, too. Everyone in the office was scared of her.” On a number of occasions Bergrin showed up at the office with black eyes or a bandaged cheek. “Everyone was sure Yolanda slugged him.”
When he announced the indictment, in May 2009, then–acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said Bergrin “essentially became one of the criminals he represents.” No one disagreed with that. But somehow simple condemnation seemed too easy in Bergrin’s case. The story was a tragedy, but it was a particularly Essex County kind of tragedy.
Bergrin’s current legal adviser, Lawrence S. Lustberg, graduate of Harvard Law, cum laude, 1983, said to have been shortlisted for the A.G. job in President Obama’s cabinet, is not a Park Place lawyer. Lustberg said he took Bergrin’s case because “originally they were asking for the death penalty, which was outrageous. I also had my doubts that Paul could get a fair trial in this environment.” Attacking the government’s rico indictment against Bergrin, Lustberg said he will try the case “on the law.”
On Park Place, however, there are doubts about this strategy. “Larry Lustberg is a brilliant attorney,” said one barrister. “But you can’t try this case on the law. You have to pull something out of left field. Something the jury will believe.” Asked what that might be, the lawyer said, “Insanity! If Paul himself was trying the case, that’s what he would do: Stand up straight, with that military bearing, look the judge straight in the eye, and say, ‘Not guilty, your honor, by reason of insanity.’ ”
There is evidence to support this theory. First of all, it is virtually impossible that Bergrin did not know the Feds were monitoring his actions. They’d been after him since the Kemo McCray murder, reputedly tracking his every move. Yet he continued on his hellbent course, allegedly conspiring to eliminate witnesses, fixing cases, selling drugs. Personally instructing the government “hit man” to “put on a ski mask” was not even the topper. Later transcripts detailed how Bergrin supposedly expressed a desire to personally take part in the rubout, much to the horror of the “hit man.”