We just capped day three in the trial against bogus reality TV producer Gemase Lee Simmons, and the allegations against him just get curiouser and curiouser
If you believe the FBI's case against him, Simmons is a whole new breed of digital-age predator. According to the feds, Simmons' typical ruse would go something like this:
Simmons, 35, would approach young local girls and offer them the chance to work with “G2News,” supposedly a new cable show that would “report news from Kanye to the Capitol, Bieber to Baghdad, politics to pop culture.” He'd then give them the number of “very successful” modeling clients that would give the girls modeling advice via text – those successful “clients,” prosecutors say, were really Simmons himself. Those “clients” would eventually encourage the girls to send nude photos. When the girls finally wanted out, Simmons would again text them from various other numbers, pretending to be someone else, and threaten to distribute the nude photos.
Prosecutors say Simmons tried to extort more than 100 people this way, many of them minors. Eight victims are named in the indictment against Simmons, and prosecutors say all eight will testify against him in court.
In many ways the charges echo allegations made against Simmons years ago. In 2008 he was the target of a blistering Dateline report, in which a number of aspiring young models came forward to accuse him of lying to and exploiting them, sometimes sexually, by promising them fame and fortune from a reality TV show he had in the works. The show ultimately bombed when Simmons couldn't pay the film crew.
The feds arrested Simmons in January 2012 on 39 counts ranging from of child pornography to extortion and bank fraud. If convicted, he could face life in prison. Last week, Simmons' lawyers opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial, meaning U.S District Judge Fred Biery alone will decide Simmons' fate instead of a jury.
Here's a quick rundown of the case so far. Believe it or not, this is just the Cliff-notes version. The alleged scheme Simmons ran is complex, extensive, and deeply troubling. Look to the Current later this month for a full story on Gemase Simmons.
Monday: Before the start of trial, one of Simmons' attorneys, William Reece, tells Judge Biery that counsel has repeatedly urged him to enter a plea to avoid trial. Biery even urges Simmons to reconsider, saying he could still spare the victims the pain of having to testify in open court.
Simmons responds, “I am most certainly guilty of sin. Of crimes, I am not.”
The prosecution then shows how Simmons installed the applications textNow and TextPlus on his iPhone, meaning he could text from a litany of different numbers from the same phone. Prosecutors also outline a check-kiting and bank fraud scheme Simmons allegedly used to fund his TV venture.
A 22-year-old woman from Houston is the first victim to testify, saying Simmons, or “C.J” as she knew him, contacted her via Facebook in 2009 offering her a break into the modeling world. Soon after, a man named “Jeff Davis” (in reality Simmons, prosecutors say) began texting her, saying she'd have to send nude photos and videos for the agency if she wanted to be successful. Eventually, “Jeff Davis” told her she'd have to engage in modeling “sessions” with Simmons, which included having sex with Simmons on video.
Within months, she wanted out, saying she felt “physically abused, sexually harassed – I just felt dirty.” “Jeff Davis” told the woman she'd have to do a “closing session” – which involved, of course, having sex with Simmons. Later, she said someone named “Chauncey” (again, prosecutors say this was really Simmons) texted her, threatening to harm the woman's family if she didn't agree to produce more videos.
“I was being blackmailed,” she said through tears.
Tuesday: Trial resumes with prosecutors reciting pages of graphic, lurid text-message exchanges between the 22-year-old Houston victim and some of Simmons' supposed alter-egos. The exchange contains messages “Chauncey” sent to the victim, threatening to distribute her nude photos and videos unless she agrees to send more for the “agency” – he tells her things like, “I release you when I say you're done. Send the fucking pictures, hoe,” and, “I can make this all go away. All you have to do is click send.”
The first underage victim to testify says Simmons and his associate, Natasha Goodlow, first approached her while she was working at a local Popeye’s. “He just said, 'Hi, nice to meet you, you're a very pretty girl,'” the 16-year-old testified. Simmons told the girl he could help her break into modeling, and gave the girl the number of a “successful model” named “Claudia.”
The girl could only text with “Claudia,” whom prosecutors say was Simmons. Simmons told her the model was a teenager who'd done work for Victoria's Secret, but lived in Europe and only spoke French (the texts were run through a translator, “Claudia” told the girl). “Claudia” told the local teen she lived in Nice, France on a massive estate “like a Disney castle.” “Claudia” eventually convinced the girl to start sending graphic nudes of herself, and urged the teenager to do modeling “sessions” at Simmons' apartment. When the local teen grew uncomfortable with the exchanges, and said she wanted out, she got texts from another of Simmons' alleged alter egos, “Curtis Johnson,” who threatened to send the nude photos to the girl's pastor if she didn't send more graphic images.
Another 16-year-old girl says Simmons and his associate, Natasha Goodlow, approached her while at a local HEB, saying they wanted her to audition for “G2News.” He put the girl in touch with another persona, a young model names “Melissa” – again, who could only text because she didn't speak english, Simmons said. “Melissa” eventually talked the teen into sending nude photos and, when the girl tried to back out and call it quits, another of Simmons' personas, this one named “Cassandra,” began texting the girl, insisting she send more nudes or else they'd post her images to a porn site called RedTube and alert her family.
Wednesday: The majority of Wednesday's testimony centered around Natasha Goodlow, 22, who's also been charged with production of child pornography in the case. Goodlow was 20 when Simmons approached her at a local flea market, telling her he planned to make a TV program about “empowering women of all shapes and sizes,” and wanted her to be involved.
The FBI initially considered Goodlow as just another victim lured in by Simmons' promises of a career with G2News. But the feds charge that Goodlow, who was also subject to Simmons' multiple personalities, wound up helping find other victims for Simmons and even had sex with a minor on camera. Goodlow claims Simmons' various personas texted her throughout her year with him, warning her that people associated with the modeling agency harmed girls if they didn't do as told. She was told one model was shot in the head for disobeying, and that others simply “disappeared.”
The feds say Goodlow is cooperating, and, on the stand Wednesday, Goodlow said she wanted to make things right and see that Simmons “gets what he deserves.” – Michael Barajas
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