CLEVELAND (AP) — Ronald Bergrin appears to have both won and lost Friday when a slightly bemused three-judge appeals court panel upheld dismissal of his charges for threatening an FBI agent after deeming him mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Cleveland-based U.S. District Judge Dan Polster dismissed Bergrin’s charges in 2016 after ruling he was incompetent for the second time. He was then released from federal custody after 22 months behind bars.
It was likely Bergrin wouldn’t have faced any prison time if he had been convicted. Under federal guidelines, that sentence would have been no more than 21 months, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian McDonough, lead prosecutor for Bergrin’s criminal case and appeal.
The appeal sought to have the incompetency ruling overturned and to force prosecutors to take Bergrin to trial in New York City, where he planned to call between 50 and 75 witnesses he claimed the FBI had turned against him, McDonough said.
Bergrin argued there was insufficient evidence to prove he was mentally incompetent. During his criminal case, Bergrin fired numerous attorneys, tried to represent himself and sent a flurry of letters to various public officials, including Polster.
“It’s a unique case,” McDonough said. “I don’t believe there will be another like it.”
Bergrin’s court-appointed appellate attorney declined to comment about the ruling. Attempts to reach the 59-year-old Bergrin were unsuccessful.
Bergrin’s criminal travails began in 2014 when he traveled to Ohio from New Jersey to support a friend whose wife was recuperating from surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. During that stay, Bergrin searched online and discovered the lead FBI agent in the prosecution of his imprisoned cousin, a former New Jersey state and federal prosecutor turned defense attorney, was only an hour’s drive from Cleveland.
The cousin, Paul Bergrin, was sentenced in 2013 to multiple life sentences in federal prison for conspiring with a drug-trafficking organization to kill a government witness. McDonough said Ronald Bergrin became angry when his cousin was placed in solitary confinement, prompting him to email another cousin containing the threat.
“She thinks she’s living in a safe place,” the email said, referring to the FBI agent. “A place where nobody can find out where she lives and nobody could get her. I’m going to teach her that I could crush her like the bug she is. … She will never sleep at night again. She will have nightmares.”
The email was soon forwarded to the FBI, which found Bergrin and arrested him.
Bergrin was first declared incompetent in 2015. Polster at the time cited Bergrin’s “paranoid delusions exacerbated by stress.” Time was then provided to see if Bergrin could be restored to competency. Ten months later, Judge Polster made the same conclusion and Bergrin went free.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled two days after hearing oral arguments.