Simels convictions upheld by US court

-laptop contained conversation with David Clarke

Robert Simels, one-time lawyer for Roger Khan,  has failed to have his convictions for conspiracy and other offences overturned.

According to today’s New York Law Journal,  Simels failed to convince a federal appeals court to overturn convictions for conspiracy, attempted obstruction of justice and bribery.

The convictions stemmed from Simels’ attempts to build a defence for Khan. The court’s ruling means that the high-flying criminal defence attorney will serve a 14-year prison term for conspiring to intimidate and corrupt witnesses in the case against convicted drug lord Khan.

The Law Journal said that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld 10 of 12 felony convictions won by prosecutors in 2009 in the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors had proved that Simels tried to prevent potential witnesses from testifying against his client.

In a minor victory for Simels,  counts of importation of electronic surveillance equipment and possession of electronic surveillance equipment were vacated by Judges Jon O. Newman, Guido Calabresi and Peter W. Hall, who heard oral arguments in United States v. Simels on April 29, the Law Journal reported. These particular counts were of importance to Guyana as there had been a furore over the surveillance equipment which was believed to have been specially imported into Guyana with government permission so that Khan could prosecute his fight against criminals and protect his drug turf.

Khan, the Law Journal noted, had hired Simels for a retainer of US$1.4 million, but ultimately pleaded guilty in the drug conspiracy after his lawyer was charged.

Against Simels, prosecutors had used a cooperating witness and Drug Enforcement Administration informant, Selwyn Vaughn.

During the trial, the Law Journal noted that the US government presented five recorded conversations between Vaughn and Simels in the attorney’s office between May and September 2008. In the conversations, Simels was heard proposing to bribe and threaten potential witnesses against Khan.

Incriminating conversations between Simels and Khan in the attorney visiting room at the Metropolitan Correctional Center were also introduced at the trial.

In his appeal, Simels argued that the government invaded his attorney-client relationship with Khan, that evidence on five counts was insufficient, and that several of Judge John Gleeson’s rulings deprived him of a fair trial, the Law Journal reported.

The report noted that Simels prevailed only on the electronic surveillance equipment counts, 18 U.S.C. §2512(1)(a) and (b), which concerned a “base” that allegedly could be used to surreptitiously intercept radio signals between phones and cell towers as well as two laptop computers.

Store

The laptops,  Simels testified, were given to Khan by Guyanese government officials to store intercepted conversations, and one of them contained a conversation involving David Clarke, a potential witness against Khan. Clarke, a former soldier and one-time commander of a joint services operation in the then troubled village of Buxton, is a highly controversial figure in the whole web surrounding Khan and his activities here.

The Law Journal said that writing for the Second Circuit, Judge Newman said the evidence showed the equipment was inoperable.

With respect to electronic devices, Judge Newman said, “Congress covered only those ‘which can be used’ to intercept communications and added, as a mens rea requirement, that the device be known to have been designed for the purpose of surreptitious interception.”

The report noted that the ruling was of little help to Simels because Judge Gleeson had sentenced him on the surveillance equipment counts to time served and no supervised release, making it unnecessary for the court to resentence him.

The Law Journal noted that Simels was a 1974 graduate of New York Law School.

Robert Simels
Robert Simels