MobFellas: Simels, Gleeson, and Shargel

The only-in-NY trial that brings together a lawyer to drug kingpins, his mob attorney, and the Gotti prosecutor

The informant, according to the court documents, "asked Simels about the possibility of 'heat' coming back to Khan if a government witness stops cooperating and refuses to testify because someone close to him or her 'fall[s] off the face of the earth.' Simels replied: 'They'd have to figure out a way to tie it back to Roger [Khan]. . . . But [pause] it seems to me that—that [pause] I'm going to leave it to you to figure out what's going to best get to [John Doe No. 1].' "

Later in the summer, in another meeting at Simels's office, according to the affidavit, the informant told Simels that another witness, "Jane Doe No. 2," was "willing to testify in conformity with Khan's defense." Simels then allegedly typed up a statement outlining what he wanted the witness to say, including that John Doe No. 1 was affiliated with a terrorist organization and that he intended to falsely testify against Khan. According to the affidavit, "the document also had blank spaces in which Jane Doe No. 2 was to add names. The informant then told Simels that Jane Doe No. 2 wanted $10,000 in exchange for signing the document."

In a subsequent telephone conversation about the payment, which was recorded by the informant, Simels allegedly said, "Tell her that obviously she can't get any money until she meets with me, but that I'll make the agreement with her. . . . She's got to meet with me. If she does it and she signs the document, she gets half then and she gets half when she, ah, finishes testifying."

The taped conversations make up the meat of agent Jackson's affidavit, which has landed Simels in trouble and has now brought together in one courtroom three of the most notable figures in the recent history of New York mobsters and the lawmen who pursued them.

Gerald Shargel and John Gleeson first clashed during one of John Gotti's trials in the early '90s. Shargel, who had been for some time an attorney for members of the Gambino crime family, was part of the Gotti defense team, which also included Bruce Cutler, a barrel-chested, bombastic defense attorney who, through his combative courtroom manner, played the role of bad cop to Shargel's good cop. It was Gleeson, then a prosecutor, who engineered the disqualification of Shargel and Cutler from Gotti's defense, on the grounds that they had become "house counsel" to the Gambino crime family. Gleeson's argument stemmed from recorded conversations at the Ravenite Social Club (now a shoe store on Mulberry Street), in which John Gotti is heard complaining about the high price tag that accompanied Shargel and Cutler.

Gleeson threatened for years to bring Shargel and Cutler up on charges of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, based on the Ravenite tapes and possible testimony from Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, Gotti's underboss and a former Shargel client, who began cooperating with the government in 1991. After a four-year investigation, the U.S. Attorney's office abandoned pursuing charges against Shargel and Cutler.

Gleeson, who became a judge in 1994, has a glowing reputation in legal and law enforcement circles. Bruce Mouw, the former Gambino case supervisor for the FBI, says Gleeson was "one of the finest prosecutors I've ever worked with, a quality professional."

Perhaps the strongest testimonial to Gleeson's reputation as a mob-busting prosecutor came in 1992, when Gotti's new lawyers sought to have Gleeson removed from the Gotti case because he had an "intense personal interest" in prosecuting the crime boss.

While Gleeson was making his reputation and then ascending to the federal bench, Shargel has become one of the most sought-after criminal defense attorneys in the city, having represented a rogue's gallery of accused mobsters—including Jimmy Burke, the model for Robert De Niro's Jimmy Conway character in GoodFellas—and a host of other high-profile clients, including Stanley Friedman, the former Bronx borough president convicted of racketeering in 1986. Shargel is now working on the defense of the accused money launderer Marc Dreier, another prominent New York attorney.

Even his opponents attest to Shargel's competence. Sean Haran—a former prosecutor who faced off against Shargel in the money-laundering case involving the rap label Murder, Inc.—recalls that Shargel virtually put on a clinic: "He is extremely well prepared, knows the evidence, exploits every weakness," Haran says. "The guy knows what he's doing."

And Shargel has tried a case before Gleeson, one not without similarities to the Simels case. In the murder trial of Michael Burnett—a lifelong con man who was the driving force behind the graft scandal at the New York City Parking Violations Bureau that ensnared Friedman—Shargel defended attorney Howard Krantz, who was accused of supplying a hired killer with a gun used to kill a Staten Island bank teller who was set to testify against Burnett in a fraud trial. In the trial, Shargel categorized his client as a dupe, but Krantz was convicted.

Shargel is smooth enough, of course, to say he's pleased that Gleeson is the trial judge on Simels's case. "I have enormous respect for him," Shargel says. "As a taxpayer, you get what you pay for with him. He's a fair and intelligent judge."

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