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Court upholds conviction of Moonachie man for sex with girl, 12

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

ONLY ON CVP: Paul Gonzalez-Ortega claims he pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of a 12-year-old runaway in a Carlstadt motel because of bad counsel from embattled lawyer Paul Bergrin, who is facing a retrial next year in the killing of a drug informant, the operation of a call-girl ring and a murder-for-hire plot.

A state court this morning rejected the appeal, however, noting that Bergrin at the time hadn’t even been indicted yet by a federal grand jury.

Agreeing with the Hackensack trial judge who heard the case, the state appeals court said Gonzalez-Ortega ( inset, above ) “has not provided sufficient evidence showing that Bergrin’s loyalty was so hobbled by an ongoing criminal investigation that he was unable to provide legal services to defendant in an ‘independent and vigorous manner.’ ”

The decision supports a Law Division ruling from 3 1/2 years ago denying the appeal.

A Bergen County grand jury indicted Gonzalez-Ortega after investigators from the county prosecutor’s office arrested him on a host of charges — including writing letters to the victim in violation of a no-contact order after the two were caught having sex.

He was 26 at the time.

Gonzalez-Ortega had moved from North Carolina to New Jersey after breaking up with his girlfriend — and her daughter followed him to Moonachie, authorities said.

North Carolina police notified their Moonachie counterparts, who found the girl living with him.

Gonzalez-Ortega was charged after she told investigators he took her to the Econo Lodge motel on Washington Avenue for sex. His original bail: $1 million.

With Bergrin as his lawyer, Gonzalez-Ortega pleaded guilty in June 2005 to first-degree sexual assault and fourth-degree contempt.

As part of the deal, an attorney from Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s office recommended an eight-year prison term for the statutory rape (with 18 months for the contempt conviction folded into that time).

Superior Court Judge Roma gave Gonzalez-Ortega that sentence on Sept. 30, 2005, records show.

Four years later — after federal authorities charged Bergrin with a host of offenses — an appeal was filed alleging ineffective counsel against the former federal prosecutor who later made his name defending gang members and such rap stars as Li’l Kim and Queen Latifah. Bergrin also admitted running a $1,000-an-hour escort service with the man who later hired Eliot Spitzer’s favorite hooker, “Ashley Dupree.”

After a previous prosecution of Bergrin ended in a mistrial, the government is preparing to go to court in January, aiming to prove, among other charges, that Bergrin systematically derailed criminal cases against his clients — once by aiding and abetting the murder of a confidential witness in an Essex County federal drug case and another time by hiring a hitman from Chicago to kill at least one witness in a state drug case being prosecuted in Monmouth County.

Gonzalez-Ortega argued that Bergrin and his law firm “were compromised in their ability to effectively represent [him] as a result of state and federal criminal investigations of Bergrin, which resulted in federal indictments in 2009.”

Roma disagreed.

“Bergrin was not indicted in the same county or by the same grand jury as the defendant, no evidence showed that the judge or prosecutor was aware of the investigation, and Bergrin was not indicted until several years after the defendant’s plea — and then by federal authorities,” the judge said.

What’s more, Roma noted, Bergrin left much of Gonzalez-Ortega’s representation to another attorney from his office. She, not Bergrin, negotiated the plea deal, the judge said.

The state appeals court supported Roma in the decision released today.

“The facts here fall far short of what is required to find a significant likelihood of prejudice,” they wrote.

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