Veteran defense attorney Robert Simels has represented the mobster immortalized in "Goodfellas," a drug kingpin with ties to hip hop and other notorious clients in his long career.
Now a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn puts Simels in their company: It accuses him of plotting to silence prosecution witnesses against an alleged drug trafficker by, in his words, "eliminating" them.
Simels, 61, was arrested Tuesday on charges of witness tampering and obstruction of justice and was released on $3.5 million bond. There was no immediate response to phone messages left for him on Thursday.
His attorney, Gerald Shargel, has called the allegations false.
"Bob Simels is well-known as a tenacious, effective and highly capable defense lawyer and he was doing his work," Shargel said.
Simels represented Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, once the head of a murderous Queens drug gang, against allegations in 2005 that he funneled $1 million in drug proceeds into Murder Inc., then a chart-topping rap music label. McGriff eventually switched lawyers and was jailed for life last year after being convicted of paying $50,000 for the 2001 killings of an aspiring rapper and another man.
According to his Web site, Simels has also represented former football star Marc Gastineau and Henry Hill, whose exploits were the basis of the 1990 Martin Scorsese mob film "Goodfellas." The site also names Shaheed "Roger" Khan, the Guyanese businessman whose case has landed the lawyer in trouble.
Kahn was arrested and brought to the United States in 2006 on charges he ran a cocaine smuggling operation that was protected by a paramilitary organization in Guyana known as the Phantom Squad.
Drug Enforcement Administration investigators allege that this May, with Kahn awaiting trial in Brooklyn, a Phantom Squad member who was cooperating with them learned that Simels wanted to talk to him.
The DEA says that during conversations over the summer, some secretly recorded, Simels asked the cooperator to help him locate potential government witnesses and pondered what to do when they were found. The attorney "discussed a range of options, from offering them money to murdering their family members," the criminal complaint says.
In one conversation recorded in May about bribing an unnamed witness, the cooperator suggested the witness "might suddenly get amnesia" if paid enough money.
"That's a terrible thing, but if it happens, it happens," Simels responded, according to the complaint. Later in the same meeting, the lawyer remarked, "Obviously, any witness you can eliminate is a good thing."
In June, the complaint says, Simels gave the cooperator $1,000 for expenses in pursuing the same witness, but cautioned that Kahn didn't want the witness's mother harmed.
"He'd like as much pressure being put on as possible," Simels allegedly said. "But he thinks if (the witness's) mother gets killed ... the government will go crazy."
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