Beyond this is Bergrin’s increasingly bizarre behavior. “In the last couple of years he started telling everyone he was dying,” said one Essex lawyer. “But he wasn’t going to take any chemo. That was for pussies. He was going to face the disease like a man. Everyone was really sorry for him. He started using it as an excuse to get out of trying cases,” the lawyer said. It was as if Bergrin’s total obsession to win every case had morphed into an all-consuming fear of losing. “It got so he didn’t want to do any cases outside of Essex County. And if one of those cases started to go south, that’s when he’d get sick. Someone else from the firm would step in. That way, if it was a loser, it didn’t go on Paul’s record.”
The cancer, if cancer there was, has not been mentioned since. “He was the best-looking terminal-cancer patient you ever saw,” said one colleague. “One day a friend of mine saw him running through the courthouse parking lot, and Paul turns around, yells ‘Remission!’ and keeps going.”
Now entering his third year behind bars, Bergrin says he is using his prison time to get closer to his Jewishness. He prays each morning with tefillin and thinks about “the suffering experienced by our people.” He has also completed his memoirs, which he says will “enable the fair-minded reader” to “see through this indictment to objectively determine the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There was not an attorney in the United States who worked harder than me, served his fellow soldier with more dedication, and loved his children as much as me.” He predicts the book will be “a national best seller.”
Back in Jersey, Bergrin’s legend grows. Like Bonnie and Clyde, the roster of crimes he supposedly committed, cases he fixed, expands by the day. His name has turned up in the lyrics of East Orange rappers.
“He’s a local legend,” said one Essex prosecutor. “Paul was made for this place. He might have done terrible things, but it was Essex that helped him get away with it. Face it, criminals have been running things here for a hundred years. When you walk into a courtroom and a whole row of guys you know are Bloods are sitting in the back row, who is going to testify then? No one believes what the cops say on the stand. They haven’t, really, since the riots. If there was ever a place for which the phrase ‘It is what it is’ was made for, it is Essex.” For all the good intentions, a lot slipped through the cracks, which was just the sort of environment where someone like Paul Bergrin could work out his own particular criminal drama.
Meanwhile, the wheels of justice grind on. Over the past year, Thomas Moran and Vicente Esteves, both named in the indictment, have made deals with the Feds, likely “flipping” on Bergrin. Only last month it was reported that Yolanda Jauregui had followed suit, pleading guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, and drug-dealing charges. It is expected that Bergrin will also flip, if he hasn’t already, and start singing about his life and times as New Jersey’s baddest lawyer.
“There’s some cases over at the U.S. Attorney’s office that might be coming from Paul,” said one Essex County judge.
Asked who might be sweating, the judge laughed. “The question is, who’s not?” he said.