A high-profile Manhattan defense lawyer took the stand yesterday to defend himself against charges that he hired a former gang member to threaten witnesses, their relatives and their lovers, and to bribe them to lie. Attorney Robert Simels met repeatedly with ex-gang member Selwyn Vaughn, who once worked for Simels's drug lord client Roger Khan. But Vaughn was actually an informant for federal investigators, and he caught Simels on tape suggesting that a key witness should "just fall off the face of the Earth... I'm gonna leave it to you to figure out what's going to be best to get to him."

Testifying yesterday, Simels said he met with Vaughn because he thought he could help get information to help Khan. "I was told [Vaughn] could locate people," Simels said. "He could call people and move things along." But what about all Simels's talk about finding ways to "neutralize the witness" or "kill the witness"? Oh, he says stuff like that "all the time... It's a part of the vernacular of being a lawyer. They're all interchangeable... I didn't think I was sanctioning harm. I didn't think I was suggesting harm."

Of course, Simels was also caught on tape delivering a message to Vaughn from his client: "Roger says don't kill the mother. He thinks if the [witness's] mother is killed, the government will go crazy." Prosecutors also say he discussed bribing the witness by buying a hotel he owned at an inflated price, and considered paying the witness's girlfriend to sign an affidavit saying the witness had lied to the government. But Simels, who could face life in prison if convicted, contends that the government is "selectively prosecuting" him because of his success finding favorable defense witnesses for his clients. Which is scary, because if this is how the government punishes successful lawyers, no one will ever want to pursue a career in law!