A lawyer for high-profile clients and his associate were arrested Wednesday on federal charges of seeking to use bribes and violence to prevent witnesses from testifying against one of their clients.
Both Robert Simels of Manhattan and his associate, Arienne Irving, face up to 10 years if convicted in the Eastern District of New York on charges of obstructing justice.
Simels has represented a number of well known clients, including former New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien, artist Peter Max and Henry Hill, the mobster-turned-informant whose life was the basis for the film "GoodFellas."
The charges against Simels and Irving are based on a series of confidential recordings, starting in May 2008, made by a source cooperating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, of conversations with the two attorneys in their law office on York Avenue.
In a conversation recorded on June 11, Simels is quoted as stating that the case against his client -- the alleged head of a violent drug gang in Guyana -- would fall apart if a witness who was believed to be cooperating with the prosecution is "neutralized by us [pause] or neutralized by us on cross examination."
In response, according to a transcript of the conversation prepared by the DEA, the confidential source said the witness, identified as John Doe #1, "will rethink his position once we start reaching out to his extensions." The confidential source also offered that a man "always values his mother. ... You don't ever want anything to happen to her."
In a related conversation on June 19, Simels is quoted as saying that his client would like "as much pressure as possible" put on John Doe #1 but that "he thinks that if [John Doe #1's] mother gets killed that ... the government will go crazy."
The excerpts from the transcripts were included in an affidavit prepared by DEA agent Cassandra Jackson, which served as the instrument upon which both Simels and Irving were arraigned Wednesday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak.
The agent's affidavit also outlined a purported attempt to bribe the girlfriend of John Doe #1. According to Jackson's affidavit, the confidential source told Simels at a July 18 meeting that the girlfriend was willing to testify in conformity with Simels' client's defense.
Simels then typed out a document detailing what he wanted her to say. Among the anticipated testimony, Jackson wrote, were statements that John Doe #1 is affiliated with a terrorist organization and intended to testify falsely against Simels' client.
Two days later, Jackson stated, the confidential source, "at the direction of law enforcement," placed a call to Simels and told him the girlfriend wanted "10" to sign the statement. In using "10," Jackson explained, the confidential source was referring to $10,000.
In a conversation the following day, July 22, Jackson quoted Simels as telling the confidential source that the girlfriend "obviously ... can't get any money until she meets me."
Simels was also quoted as saying "she gets half" when she signs the document and "half when she, ah, finishes testifying."
In a phone conversation on Aug. 5, Jackson quoted Simels as telling the confidential source, "Nobody wants to pay for a pig in a poke, that is, to give people money without knowing what they are getting."
Since August 2006, Simels and Irving have represented Shaheed Khan who has been charged in Brooklyn with leading a violent drug trafficking organization in Guyana. According to prosecutors, the drug gang imported cocaine from Guyana into New York's Eastern District, and used a paramilitary squad to control the cocaine trade in Guyana through murder, threats and intimidation.
According to Jackson's affidavit, the confidential source, who was a member of Khan's paramilitary force, was told by another member of the force that Kahn's attorney wanted to speak to him.
On May 13, 2008, Jackson stated that the confidential source "at the direction of law enforcement" first called Simels.
Wednesday, Pollak set bond for Simels at $3.5 million and for Irving at $500,000.
Simels is being represented by Gerald L. Shargel, who could not be reached for comment by press time.
Simels also has attracted judicial criticism for his advocacy of some clients. In fact, last year Eastern District Judge Dora L. Irizarry criticized Simels for his handling of Khan's case. Irizarry ruled that he had violated local Eastern District rules by naming potential witnesses against Khan. The judge declined to sanction Simels, but wrote that his "reckless" conduct "degrades the standards of this profession."
Simels' defense of another high-profile drug defendant, Thomas Mickens of Queens, N.Y., earned him criticism from Eastern District Judge Joanna Seybert in 2005. Seybert suggested that Simels withheld full information from Mickens about a plea bargain offer from prosecutors, possibly so the case would continue and Simels would continue getting paid or tap into some of Mickens' drug profits.
The judge at Mickens' trial, Eastern District Judge Thomas C. Platt Jr., had earlier barred Simels from appearing in his court for engaging in a series of questionable legal and financial transactions with Mickens.
On his Web site, Simels says he is a graduate of New York Law School. From 1974-79, he says he served as an assistant attorney general in the special prosecutor's office investigating public corruption in the New York City criminal justice system.
Two Attorneys Charged With Witness Tampering Through Attempted Bribes, Violence
Lawyer with high-profile clients and his associate are accused of obstructing justice in drug case
New York Law Journal
September 12, 2008