Former Roger Khan Attorney-at-law, Robert Simels, has been sentenced in a New York City Court to 14 years in prison for threatening witnesses in a drug-trafficking case.
A Brooklyn jury found Robert Simels guilty earlier this year of federal witness-tampering charges.
During that trial, jurors heard Simels and an associate of Khan, namely Selwyn Vaughn, a self confessed phantom gang member, on tape, discussing how to “eliminate” witnesses in Khan’s drug case.
The lawyer took the witness stand in his own defense and claimed he meant no harm.
The Eastern District Judge, John Gleeson, sentenced and also fined Simels $225,000.
“These are such egregious crimes,” Judge Gleeson told Simels during yesterday’s sentencing. “You need to be punished for them not because you are a member of the profession, not because it’s an affront to this court…You are a criminal defendant and you committed crimes deserving of punishment that reflects the seriousness of the crimes.”
As for Arienne Irving, Simels’s associate who was charged along with Simels, three and one-half hours before the sentencing, the judge granted her Rule 29 motion, throwing out the jury’s verdict and dismissing her case.
Irving did not attend the sentencing, instead celebrating the dismissal with her parents in midtown Manhattan.
In an emotional speech before Judge Gleeson ruled, Simels, 62, was apologetic and remorseful. He spoke at length about the effects of his trial, conviction and sentencing on his young son and teenage daughter.
“I have an eight-year-old son who doesn’t understand,” Simels said. “‘How will you get there? When will you be back?’ are questions without answer for an eight-year-old.”
Simels’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, told the judge that his client was a “broken man…You have a lot of evidence before you that Mr. Simels is a good and decent man,” his attorney told the court.
Shargel also argued that the court need not impose a “draconian” sentence to deter other defense attorneys from threatening witnesses or obstructing justice.
“The bell has been rung,” Shargel said, “The message has been sent.”
Assistant U.S. District Attorney Morris Fodeman acknowledged the “severity” of the sentencing guidelines, 30 years to life, but argued that Simels’ crimes merited such a sentence.
“The government submits that the circumstances of this crime demand a severe sentence,” said Fodeman adding that, “Justice demands a fair sentence.”
Judge Gleeson, who like Simels, is the father of two young children, was visibly and openly moved by the letters sent in support of Simels.
“Some of these letters just absolutely tear at the heart,” the judge told Simels, “particularly the one from your wife.”
The judge also said that Simels should neither benefit from nor be punished for being a lawyer. Rather, he said that Simels should be punished for bribing witnesses, suborning perjury and committing perjury.
Judge Gleeson denied Simels’s request for bail pending appeal, but gave Mr. Simels until January 8, 2010 to remand himself to prison.
The judge said he would personally call the Federal Bureau of Prisons to request Simels’s choice, the federal prison at Otisville, which is near Simels’s family in Westchester.
In a statement yesterday, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell said, Simels’s license entitled him to practise law and it was not a license to commit crimes.
“Those who attempt to subvert the criminal justice system will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted with all the resources at our disposal.”
Simels’s lawyer had sought for a sentence of about three years, while the government wanted a minimum of 30.
“I actually loved the law,” Simels said. “I have no one to blame but myself.”
Simels had been a fixture in the New York legal community for more than three decades. The former state prosecutor’s clients included Henry Hill, whose exploits were the basis of the 1990 Martin Scorsese mob film “Goodfellas,” and Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, a legendary gang leader accused of funneling drug money into rap music label Murder Inc.
In 2006, Simels was hired by Shaheed “Roger” Khan.
Before his arrest and extradition to Brooklyn to face federal drug charges, Khan was one of the richest people in Guyana, controlling businesses such as housing developments, discos and carpet cleaning.
But U.S. authorities alleged that Khan’s wealth also came from smuggling large amounts of cocaine into the United States under the protection of the Phantom Squad — a paramilitary group that has been accused in as many as 200 killings in Guyana.
Last year, as Khan’s case was nearing trial, Simels was approached by Vaughn who was at the time a Drug Enforcement Administration cooperator wearing a hidden recording device and told that Vaughn was a former Phantom Squad member.
In one taped conversation, Vaughn suggested that a witness “might suddenly get amnesia” if paid enough money.
“That’s a terrible thing, but if it happens, it happens,” Simels responded. Later in the same meeting, the lawyer remarked: “Obviously, any witness you can eliminate is a good thing.”
In another discussion about locating relatives of a witness, Simels was recorded telling the cooperator that Khan had instructed, “Don’t kill the mother.” Khan “thinks that if the mother gets killed that … the government will go crazy, and he’s probably right.”
Simels, taking the witness stand in his own defense, had testified he merely meant he wanted enough ammunition to discredit the witnesses in front of a jury. “It’s part of the vernacular of being a lawyer,” Simels said.
He described putting in long hours and using private investigators to dig up dirt on drug dealers turned government witnesses.
Earlier this year, Khan pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking, weapons charges and witness tampering and following in a plea deal was sentenced to 15-years in prison. (AP Reports)
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