Each year, NAFUSA recognizes an Assistant U.S. Attorney for outstanding performance through the J. Michael Bradford Memorial Award. The award is named after J. Michael Bradford, who served as a U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas from 1994 to 2001. Bradford, who died in 2003, had a distinguished career in public service, including successfully defending the government against lawsuits stemming from the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian’s compound in Waco, Texas. NAFUSA annually solicits nominations from current U.S. Attorneys for the Bradford Award. Typically, the recipient has handled a significant investigation and prosecution or series of prosecutions that has had a significant impact and merits special recognition.
Once again, a number of exceptional nominations were made by U.S. Attorneys around the country. The Michael Bradford Award Committee was chaired by NAFUSA Vice President Greg Vega. Its members included Ed Dowd, Catherine Hanaway, Don Washington, Bart Daniel, Bob Cleary and Rich Rossman. This year, the Board voted to give the award to John Gay, Joseph Minish and Steven Sanders, from the District of New Jersey, nominated by United States Attorney Paul Fishman for their outstanding work in the case United States v. Paul Bergrin.
For nearly a decade, Paul Bergrin, a former assistant Essex County Prosecutor and former AUSA for the District of New Jersey, used his law practice to operate a criminal enterprise brokering narcotics deals, distributing drugs, operating a brothel owned by a client, tampering with witnesses, and conspiring to murder witnesses testifying against his clients. In 2009, after a five-year investigation, the grand jury returned an indictment charging Bergrin with using his law practice as an association-in-fact enterprise to commit racketeering acts, including murdering and conspiring to murder witnesses. The case was vigorously litigated with the Judge dismissing the RICO count stating that it failed to plead a viable offense. That ruling was appealed to the Third Circuit which reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for trial. The Judge remained hostile to the Government’s case and severed two substantive counts relating to a murder, and ordered the Government to try the severed counts first. Among other obstacles, the Judge excluded certain evidence, resulting in the jury’s inability to reach a verdict resulting in a mistrial. Upon retrial, the Judge made more evidentiary rulings against the Government and severed remaining counts prior to retrial of the murder counts. The Government again appealed the Judge’s evidentiary rulings and also sought permission to have the case assigned to a new Judge. The Third Circuit held that the Judge had erroneously excluded certain Rule 404(b) evidence and concluded a reasonable observer could question the judge’s impartiality. The Circuit ordered the case be reassigned and directed the new judge to reconsider whether any severance was necessary. The new judge ordered all counts be tried together. At trial, the Government presented evidence that Bergrin was involved in subornation of perjury; involved with a 2004 murder; attempted to hire a hit-man to murder witnesses; and 54 kilograms of cocaine seized from a restaurant he jointly owned with his girlfriend. The Government called 42 witnesses (some in protective custody) and introduced over 1,000 exhibits.
Bergin represented himself at trial, but was also assisted by a prominent defense team that filed daily motions that required briefing and argument by the prosecution team. The trial team exhibited hard work, cogent legal arguments, skillful presentation of evidence and persuasive advocacy. After three days of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all 23 counts and found the Government to have proved every RICO predicate act alleged in the indictment. The Court imposed concurrent life sentences on Bergrin. Despite facing numerous obstacles, the team remained focused in the finest tradition and represented the Government in the finest tradition.
The other nominees were:
Christopher Bodnar and Sean Costello, nominated by United States Attorney Kenyen Ray Brown, SD of Alabama, for their work on Operation Measured Bold, a massive multi-agency international terrorism case.
Bridget M. Brennan, nominated by United States Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, ND of Ohio, for her in prosecution of of the hate crimes case involving religiously-motivated assaults against the Amish, prosecution of one of the largest credit union cases and prosecution of a religiously motivated arson case involving the Islamic Center for Greater Toledo.
Jay R. Combs, nominated by United States Attorney John Malcolm Bales, ED of Texas, for his work in prosecuting and investigating a significant drug trafficking organization.
Bonnie Jonas, nominated by United States Attorney Preet Bharara, SD of New York, for her work in significant high impact white collar cases, including Aurora Foods, WorldCom, Royal Ahold, Olympus, Deutsche Bank and Toyota.
Melanie K. Pierson, nominated by United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy, SD of California, for her work in protecting the environment from various threats.
Christopher D. Poole, nominated by United States Attorney William C. Killian, ED of Tennessee, for his work in leading an investigation targeting gang members in Chattanooga in Operation Shutdown.
Stephen M. “Mark” McIntyre, nominated by United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson, SD of Texas, for his successful prosecution of Weatherford International Limited for violation of export control laws.
Steven Myhre and Jim Keller, nominated by United States Attorney Daniel G. Bogden, Nevada, for their work in prosecuting Young and Willard for complex securities fraud in the futures market (FOREX).
Matthew D. Segal, nominated by United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, ED of California, for prosecution of complex and significant white collar cases, including the CEO of a major food processor.