Published January 13, 2015
A convicted felon who became a motivational speaker — and used his life experiences to warn teens about the dangers of drugs and crime — is accused of going on a bender, threatening to kill his girlfriend and her son, and smashing a former prison buddy in the face with a statue of John Wayne.
Authorities said Russell Simon Jr. was jailed on attempted murder charges after the events following his relapse into drugs and booze. According to a criminal complaint, a night of drinking with the prison buddy on May 15 led to Simon stripping off his clothes, fighting with the friend and firing shots at him and Simon's girlfriend.
At one point Simon hit the man in the face with the John Wayne statue, according to the complaint.
The complaint says Simon forced his girlfriend to perform oral sex on him while he had his gun nearby and threatened to kill her and her 9-year-old son. At least six shots were fired, one grazing the woman's arm, the complaint said.
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said last week that tests show Simon had cocaine, THC and methamphetamine in his system.
"We're very fortunate that we're not dealing with a multiple homicide case," Edblad said.
The 45-year-old Simon, who enlisted a frank, tough-guy approach in his speeches to students around the country, is in custody on $1 million bail. He's charged with nine counts, including attempted murder, criminal sexual conduct and assault with a dangerous weapon. He was previously in prison for assault.
From jail, Simon referred questions to his attorney, Barry Voss, who didn't return messages from The Associated Press.
Simon's Web site says he's "a dynamic speaker who talks to over 250,000 teens and parents throughout the U.S. each year on being set free from cycles of drug/alcohol abuse, addiction, and violence."
Some counselors and school administrators agreed, calling Simon a charismatic figure who connected with audiences by talking about how alcohol affected his home life, the poor decisions he made, and the dangers of prison. His program showed how he beat his demons to succeed.
Edblad said that because a child was in the house during the ordeal, prosecutors will ask for stiffer penalties against Simon if he's convicted. Bail was kept at $1 million because Simon made threatening phone calls from the jail to his former wife, authorities said.
Police are also investigating possible fraud or identity theft because Simon had four credit cards belonging to someone else.
"It sounds like Russell ended up going back into drugs, and it leads you down that kind of path where you do things that you normally wouldn't do. He's going to end up right back where he started," said Vicki Langemo, a prevention counselor at a suburban Twin Cities high school who thought highly of Simon after hearing him speak years ago.
While saying she doesn't know if the allegations are true, Langemo added: "I'm just very sad to hear that those are the choices he made."