He used a restaurant in Newark, N.J., as a front for a cocaine-distribution network.

He traveled to New York City to oversee a $1,000-an-hour call-girl ring.

He had a witness killed in one drug case and hired a hit man to rub out another.

And he did it all out of his law office.

That's the picture federal authorities have painted in a 39-count racketeering indictment charging prominent New Jersey defense lawyer Paul Bergrin with being the leader of a criminal enterprise that used violence, intimidation, and deceit to generate millions of dollars.

Bergrin, a former federal prosecutor, is to be arraigned today with seven codefendants in U.S. District Court in Newark.

All were named in a superseding indictment handed up earlier this month that expanded on charges originally filed when Bergrin was arrested in May.

At that time, Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra said Bergrin, 53, had "essentially become one of the criminals he represents."

He was "no different than a street gangster," added Gerald P. McAleer, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in New Jersey.

Both the DEA and the FBI worked the Bergrin case. In the months since the arrest, court papers have fleshed out their allegations.

Though the indictment includes one murder and one murder conspiracy, investigators contend that witnesses have linked Bergrin to at least three other homicides.

They also say Bergrin routinely bribed witnesses to win cases. And, they contend, when bribery wasn't an option, he resorted to violence.

"No witness, no case" was the phrase he used repeatedly in his criminal-defense work, authorities say.

Witness intimidation is a major problem in drug investigations throughout the country, including Philadelphia and Camden.

In one glaring example, convicted Philadelphia cocaine kingpin Kaboni Savage faces racketeering charges that include 12 murders. Eight are believed to be tied to witness intimidation, including a firebombing that left two women and four children dead.

But there have been few examples of a lawyer playing the direct role that prosecutors allege Bergrin did.

"This is an incredible case . . . a one-of-a kind story, unfortunately," said Miles Feinstein, a lawyer who has worked with Bergrin and who represents a codefendant charged with mortgage and real estate fraud, another of the racketeering allegations.

"It has every element in the world . . . a hit man, sex, drugs."

Feinstein, who described Bergrin as an excellent trial attorney, said many members of the defense bar were shocked when the charges were made public.

One source in the New Jersey underworld who was once a Bergrin client, however, said he and others knew Bergrin as a lawyer who enjoyed life on the edge. The charges, the source said, came as no surprise.

A former Essex County prosecutor who later worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark, Bergrin had a reputation as a hard charger who defended an array of high-profile clients. They included Queen Latifah, Lil' Kim, mobster Angelo Prisco, and some of North Jersey's more notorious street-gang leaders and narcotics traffickers.

A retired Army Reserve major, Bergrin also represented - pro bono - a soldier accused of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Jason Itzler, who billed himself as the "King of All Pimps" while running a high-end escort service in Manhattan, was also a Bergrin client.

The current case alleges that after Itzler was jailed in 2005, Bergrin took over management of his escort service, NY Confidential.

Born in Brooklyn, the son of a New York City police officer, Bergrin began his legal career in 1983 after serving four years of active duty in the Army. (He retired from the Army Reserve in 2000.)

Bullnecked with a thick shock of black hair and a pencil-thin mustache, he was known for his arrogant courtroom swagger and aggressive style - a style more suited to the criminal-defense practice he started in 1991.

According to the sworn affidavit of Timothy Stillings, one of the FBI agents working on the case, authorities came to view Bergrin as "house counsel for a number of criminal organizations, including . . . the Latin Kings, the Bloods, and a number of high-level drug-trafficking organizations."

The current indictment contends that Bergrin used his law offices at 50 Park Place in Newark as the hub for his criminal enterprise. The 95-page document alleges he engaged in bribery and witness intimidation, including murder; set up business fronts such as Isabella's, a Newark restaurant, for drug dealing; ran a call-girl service; and formed a real estate company that engaged in a series of phony mortgage deals.

Authorities believe Bergrin has hidden assets in Japan, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica, where, they allege, he and associates were planning a $30 million casino called the Blue Fin.

Bergrin's listed assets include a house in Morganville, Monmouth County, where his estranged wife and 9-year-old daughter live. The couple also have two grown children.

Other assets include a condo at the Jersey Shore, the restaurant property in Newark, and a 2007 Bentley. All could be subject to forfeiture.

More important, federal authorities could seek the death penalty, a decision that would have to be approved by U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The current indictment alleges that Bergrin helped arrange the 2004 murder of a witness against Newark drug kingpin William Baskerville, whom Bergrin was representing at the time.

Authorities also allege that over the last two years Bergrin met repeatedly with a hit man from Chicago to set up the murder of a witness against another of his clients, Vincent Esteves.

Esteves, an accused Monmouth County drug dealer, was arrested in June 2008 on state charges of running a multimillion-dollar cocaine-distribution network. He now faces murder-conspiracy charges in the federal case as well.

Court documents charge that Esteves, while held in the county jail, determined that an associate identified as "Junior the Panamanian" was the key witness against him.

Bergrin, authorities allege, smuggled a cell phone into the jail so Esteves could speak with the hit man. Bergrin also met several times with the gunman, traveling at least once to Chicago.

In fact, documents indicate that the hit man, who has not been identified by name, was a cooperating government witness who recorded dozens of conversations with Bergrin, Esteves, and Thomas Moran, another lawyer charged in the case.

In one conversation, on Dec. 8, 2008, Bergrin allegedly told the hit man, "Put on a ski mask and make it look like a robbery. . . . It cannot under any circumstances look like a hit . . . make it look like a home-invasion robbery."

That same day, the hit man allegedly had a separate conversation with Moran in which he told Moran that Bergrin wanted to take part in the slaying.

"He said he wants to do it with me," the hit man said, according to a transcript. "I said, 'No, Paul. For what you went to law school to become . . . stick with that s-.' Let me do what I have to do.' "

Moran, according to the transcript, replied, "Paul's a stone killer, bro. . . . That's what he is. . . . He's done work, bro."

In the underworld, "doing work" is a euphemism for committing murder.

Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.