Simels, a prominent Manhattan defense attorney, has been charged with plotting with a client to bribe and threaten potential witnesses. His trial began in the courtroom of Eastern District of New York Judge John Gleeson on July 27.
During nearly four hours of questioning Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven L. D'Alessandro confronted Simels with tape recordings of the lawyer apparently suborning the perjury of one witness and discussing the logistics of bribing another.
In one such instance, D'Alessandro played a recording in which a cooperating witness tells Simels, "We either try to buy [the witnesses] or we gotta drive fear in them, is the only option."
Simels responds, "I agree with you, I agree with you."
Asked by D'Alessandro to explain that exchange, Simels said that, at the time of the conversation, he was distracted by computer problems and that he was in fact trying to dissuade the witness from committing any crimes.
D'Alessandro appeared incredulous.
"Dissuading him? Dissuading him?" D'Alessandro said. "You call this dissuading him? Saying you agree with him?"
The exchange between Simels and D'Alessandro provoked the most high-pitched emotions of the trial thus far.
As D'Alessandro's voice continued to rise, Simels' attorney, Gerald Shargel, complained to Judge Gleeson about the prosecutor's "tone."
"He's got a good point," Gleeson told D'Alessandro. "No need to yell."
The judge's voice was perhaps the only one in the court unaffected by the heat of the arguments.
When Simels continued to disobey the judge's order to stop making speeches from the stand, the judge called a recess for the jury.
"Your career is at stake, your liberty is at stake, it's an important case for both sides," Gleeson told Simels after the jurors had left the courtroom, his voice never wavering from its calm, even tone. "I understand emotions are a little high. But I'm going to start stepping on you in front of the jury. It's not going to help your case."
By taking the stand, Simels allowed the government to introduce recordings of jailhouse conversations between him and his client, Guyanese drug kingpin Shaheed Khan, that Judge Gleeson had suppressed last month on technical grounds.
Those tapes, recorded at Manhattan's Metropolitan Corrections Center and played for the jury for the first time Wednesday, were scratchy to the point of inaudibility. But they seemingly contained further evidence corroborating the government's case.
At one point, Simels appears to ask Khan for money to give to Leslyn Camacho, a woman the government alleges Simels hoped to bribe to testify favorably.
"I've got to come up with this money, theoretically, in case she is for real," Simels tells Khan, according to the government.
If the transcription is accurate, it undercuts Simels' contention that he discussed that same potential bribe with the cooperating witness the very next day simply to string him along.
Simels disputed the transcription.
"You can't hear it because you weren't there," Simels told D'Alessandro.
"Respectfully, we're going to let the jury decide that," D'Alessandro countered.
"We will," said Simels.
Simels' appearance on the stand also gave his co-defendant, his former associate Arienne Irving, a chance to amplify her defense. Irving also is charged with obstructing justice and witness tampering. Both defendants face a maximum of life in prison.
In questioning Simels, Irving's attorney, Javier Solano, sought to highlight the entry-level and administrative nature of her position.
In response to Solano's questioning, Simels told the jury that Irving earned approximately $50,000 to $55,000 a year, and that her primary tasks included gathering documents, providing information to private investigators and taking "copious notes." She did no legal research for the Khan case that Simels could recall.
Simels said Irving was not at several of the meetings that were recorded by the cooperating witness because she was, variously, in Ireland, on jury duty or in another room instant-messaging. She attended the initial meeting with the witness, Simels said, mainly to take notes.
Unlike her former boss, Irving did not take the stand.
Both defendants rested. Judge Gleeson is expected to meet with the attorneys to discuss the jury charge today. Closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for Monday.