Fox News commentator accused of lying about CIA work freed from jail
By MATT ZAPOTOSKY | The Washington Post | Published: November 13, 2015
The frequent Fox News commentator who prosecutors say lied about a career with the CIA to win actual government work will be freed from jail while he waits for his trial to begin early next year, a federal judge ruled Friday.
After a lengthy and at times contentious hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered that Wayne S. Simmons, 62, be allowed to return to his Annapolis, Maryland, home Monday, though the judge imposed a series of stringent conditions. Ellis ruled that Simmons, who will be monitored via a GPS ankle device, will not be able to leave his property except to see his attorneys or probation officials, and even then, he will not be allowed to drive himself. Ellis also banned Simmons from drinking alcohol - which he said will be monitored by sensors - and appointed Simmons's daughter to move in with him and watch him.
The ruling was undeniably a win for Simmons, who had previously been ordered detained pending further legal proceedings by a federal magistrate judge. Prosecutors had argued that Simmons had a violent past and a long history of ignoring court orders and should not be let go pending trial. Defense attorneys asserted that he was singularly focused on winning his case and would do nothing to jeopardize that if allowed out.
After the judge's ruling, Simmons's daughter, Alison Little, issued a statement saying that the family wanted to "express our full and steadfast support of Wayne."
" 'A Clear and innocent conscience fears nothing' and this rings true for Wayne during this unsubstantiated fleecing of his reputation in the court of public opinion AS WELL AS the justice system," the statement said. "We will battle this with everything we have, understanding that inevitably truth and justice will prevail and Wayne will certainly be vindicated."
The family also thanked their supporters, saying it was "a blessing to have you all by our side at this time."
"For those of us who know Wayne, we know a kind and loving man who would do anything for his family, friends and community," the statement said. "It has been disgusting to watch such a man have his name destroyed based upon allegations, not facts."
Simmons was arrested last month and charged with making false statements, major fraud against the United States and wire fraud. By prosecutors' accounts, Simmons lied on government documents about a career with the CIA to help him win interim security clearances and jobs with two government contractors, including BAE Systems, and was deployed overseas as an adviser to senior U.S. military personnel. He was a frequent, unpaid commentator on Fox News.
In advocating that Simmons remain behind bars, federal prosecutors offered many new details about Simmons's purported past and current misdeeds. Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Nathanson said the fraud of which Simmons stands accused is far from ordinary: By lying about CIA work, Nathanson said, Simmons was deployed to Afghanistan for some weeks as a senior adviser to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, putting him "in a war zone with access to classified material."
Nathanson said that in reality, Simmons was little more than a lifelong criminal with no significant work history or money to his name. He said that Simmons, who owns a 5,000-square-foot house valued at $2 million in Annapolis, had not made a mortgage payment since 2010, although he claimed to have done so on his taxes. Simmons, he said, supported himself mostly on the more than $500,000 he persuaded a man in his 80s to give or lend to him.
Nathanson also said Simmons's criminal record includes convictions for 11 DUIs as well as for assault, gambling and having a firearm. In the assault case, which occurred in 1980 in Prince George's County, Md., Simmons was accused of firing a pistol at three people he'd had a verbal altercation with in the parking lot of a disco, Nathanson said. He added that Simmons would sometimes list his convictions on government documents but would claim they were "all related to top-secret, classified CIA stuff."
Nathanson said that even though Simmons was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, he had a contract to sell assault rifles for Adcor Defense, and he said in a 2014 interview with the FBI that he was a business partner of Marc Turi, a gun dealer who reportedly pondered selling weapons in Libya and is now charged with violating arms-export laws and submitting false documents. Adcor and Turi's attorney did not immediately return messages seeking comment, and Nathanson said investigators were still looking into Simmons's claim about a relationship with Turi. Ellis ordered that Simmons have no dealings involving weapons during his release.
Whitney Minter, Simmons's attorney, said that Simmons intended to follow the release conditions "to the letter," and in a written filing pointed to several relatively prominent supporters who wrote letters on his behalf. Among them: retired Prince George's sheriff James V. Aluisi, retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons Jr., retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, and TV personality and retired New Jersey Superior Court judge Andrew P. Napolitano.
Aluisi wrote that he knew Simmons only as a local businessman and that he was always a "perfect gentleman." McInerney wrote that he and Simmons had traveled to Iraq and met with the secretary of defense and that his conduct had been "above reproach at all times." Napolitano wrote that Simmons's "savvy analysis of intelligence issues could not have come out of the mouth of a person untutored or unfamiliar with the subjects we have discussed."
"We spent a day together in 2003 as guests of the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, examining there the detention facilities. I assume he received the same [Department of Defense] vetting as I did prior to the trip, as we received serious intelligence and military briefings at Gitmo," Napolitano said in the letter. "He has been a guest on my former Fox show and he has been one of the go-to intelligence and military personalities who have mingled comfortably and credibly at Fox."
Ellis, the judge, questioned both sides but said specifically of the letters people wrote: "They give me no indication that they have any sense of his history, and they don't carry much weight with me."
Although Ellis ordered that Simmons be set free - and pay $50,000 if he fails to show up in court - he seemed to be doing so reluctantly.
"Based on your history, I'm not sure I can rely on you. I want you to prove me wrong," Ellis told Simmons.
"Yes, sir. I will," Simmons responded.
Simmons's trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 23.