Take the Bada Bing strip club from "The Sopranos," stick it in Atlanta, supply a surreal assortment of celebrities, lawyers, athletes, mafiosos and strippers, inject the tension of Michael Corleone's racketeering trial in "Godfather II," then toss in a bunch of goofy sexual anecdotes.
The Gold Club was a hot spot for athletes, celebrities and high rollers.
Back in November 1999, Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan was indicted on a full array of federal racketeering charges, including credit-card fraud, prostitution, money laundering, police corruption and even inappropriate ties to the powerful Gambino crime family.
In November 1999, Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan was indicted on a full array of federal racketeering charges.
Other than the "this is crazy, we didn't do it" defense, some of the attorneys unveiled excuses of the "dog ate my homework" variety. For instance:
Steve Sadow, right center, and the rest of the attorneys for Kaplan, left center, claimed their client was being framed by the federal government.
Of course, they did! Burney's defense attorney (Dwight Thomas) lobbed allegations of racism against the prosecution, noting that three black athletes (Jamal Anderson, Terrell Davis and Patrick Ewing) were getting calls to the stand and somehow celebrities like "Ted Turner, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, John Rocker and Bill Gates" -- all former Gold Club patrons, according to the defense -- weren't getting called. Did the prosecution introduce any additional arguments in their opening remarks other than what the feds already wrote in their indictment?
Prosecution attorney Art Leach classified Kaplan as a voyeur who remained inside private "VIP rooms" and directed the sex-capades (a combination of Tony Soprano and Billy Baldwin in "Sliver"). According to Leach, Kaplan came up with a game plan: lure as many celebrities as possible (with free lap dances, lesbian sex shows and occasional sex acts) in order to raise the overall profile of the club. Once that happened, Leach claimed, Kaplan believed that big spenders would start pouring in (easy pickings for overbilling and general credit-card fraud). And he was right. Who was the first athlete to get mentioned during the trial?
None other than Knicks forward Larry Johnson! According to Leach, the "If I give free sex to celebrities, more of them will start visiting my club and increase the general buzz factor" lightbulb started flickering for Kaplan shortly after he purchased the club in '94, when LJ (a patron one night) allegedly asked Kaplan for a woman. Kaplan happily obliged, although there was no word whether LJ made the stripper dress up like Grandmama. Who was the first King to get mentioned in the trial?
According to the prosecution, Kaplan felt attracting athletes to the club would help raise the buzz about the establishment.
Easily former GC exec Thomas "Ziggy" Sicignano, the first witness who testified that dancers were paid as much as $1,000 apiece for putting on X-rated sex shows and performing sexual acts for certain athletes. In my opinion, a strip club isn't officially on trial until somebody named "Ziggy" testifies. Anyway, here were some of Ziggy's stories:
Braves star Andruw Jones testified that he "wouldn't remember" the faces of the two women he had sex with at the club.
Aforementioned dancer (and alleged prostitute) Jacklyn "Diva" Bush. Ziggy remembered one time when Rodman -- allegedly a frequent GC patron -- was making out with a waitress in a semi-private room, and Kaplan realized that the poor girl was "out of her league," so he summoned Bush from the Gold Club bullpen to "take care" of Rodman. Why did Rodman need special attention? I don't know and I don't want to know. In fact, let's agree never to discuss this again.
The prosecution claimed that former Gold Club dancer Jacklyn Bush esentially worked as a prostitute.
A former GC limo driver (Anthony Butina) claimed Rodman and Kaplan were friends and "They'd go up to one another, shake hands with one another, hug." According to Butina, Rodman continually heaped praise on Kaplan for the way he handled his female employees. (The lesson here, as always: You know you're doing something wrong with your life when Dennis Rodman is heaping praise on you.) Were there any memorable Mafia-related testimonies in the trial?
Some forgettable professional criminals and low-level mafiosos testified -- all banging home the "Kaplan was an associate of the Gambino family" theme -- but there were two highlights over the two-month trial:
One witness said that Dennis Rodman praised Kaplan for the way he ran the Gold Club.
Probably Antonio Davis, the married Raptors center who was erroneously identified by Ziggy as being one of the NBA players who had received sexual favors. Ziggy actually meant Dale Davis, Antonio's then-teammate with the Pacers. What were the two greatest moments of the trial that involved Patrick Ewing?
1. Ex club-manager Deborah Pinson testified that she inadvertently walked into a room where a dancer was performing oral sex on Ewing. When she complained to Kaplan, he allegedly called her stupid and added, "These are my friends. You won't be complaining when we're sitting in the front row of Madison Square Garden." (So that's how you get into the front row at MSG, huh?) 2. Ewing testified that he received complimentary VIP rooms, dancers and sexual favors on two separate occasions -- both times he received oral sex while Kaplan and Sicignano looked on (yukkkk). According to Ewing, "The girls danced, started fondling me, I got aroused, they performed oral sex. I hung around a little bit and talked to them, then I left." (I've said it before, I'll say it again: the NBA ... It's FANNNNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!) Who was the lamest celebrity who allegedly received free sex from Kaplan?
Stephen Baldwin. According to former GC manager George Kontos, Baldwin was escorted to a private Gold Room and asked if he wanted any sexual favors. Baldwin said he "wouldn't mind," according to Kontos. As for the stripper, she probably had this reaction: "Wait a second, which Baldwin is this? Not Alec, right? And not the guy from 'Sliver'? And not the fat one? (long pause) All right ... I guess I'll do it ..." What was the scariest story from the trial that will put the fear of God in you next time you visit a strip joint and hand somebody your credit card?
Savannah businessman Mark Hornsby spent a night at the GC and later found out that his American Express card had been charged for more than $28,000 in six hours, which he disputed down to $10,000. Hornsby claimed he was misled into signing receipts for $15,000 worth of Gold Bucks, testifying, "I wasn't really paying attention. There were $10,000 worth of Gold Bucks (the phony money used for tipping/paying the dancers) charged in 45 minutes. It doesn't seem reasonable to me." Was Madonna involved in this trial?
Madonna's name even surfaced during some of the testimony.
Kaplan agreed to the following terms last week: spend three years in prison; relinquish the Gold Club; pay a $5 million fine; pay back up to $250,000 to customers for credit-card fees; pay restitution of up to $50,000 to Delta Air Lines; forfeit $38,400 in cash recovered during a government search. And he's never allowed to sit in the front row of MSG for a Knicks game ever again. As for the rest of the defendants, two managers (Calder and Cicola) and Bush (the MJ of sex) all pleaded guilty to "misprison of a felony," and the CFO (Gleit) pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge. All face jail time. As for Burney (the police officer) and "Mikey Scars" (the alleged mobster), their portion of the trial will resume at some point this month. It will be good to have Mikey Scars back in the news, won't it? What happened to the Gold Club?
On Aug. 1, Team Kaplan held a private party during the early evening that was attended by attorneys, defendants and members of a curious media. The goal? Drink as much liquor as possible because the feds were arriving to padlock the door at midnight. Said one of the attorneys on hand, "It's the Gold Club, and nobody's naked.It's bizarre."
Former Gold Club waitress Michelle James, left, and employee Marci Barrett embrace after the trial abruptly ended.
We learned that strip joints take advantage of their customers. We learned that its possible for a strip joint to have mafia ties. We learned that it's probably not a good idea to sign up for a strip joint "Membership Club." We learned that celebrities enjoy strip joints and have trouble turning down free sex. We learned that professional athletes can exhibit bad judgement from time to time. We learned that the long arm of the law always wins in the end. In other words, I guess we didn't learn anything. Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.
- Simmons: 'Real World' meets the NFL
- Simmons: Do I have anything left?
- Simmons: The Sports Guy's Book of Lists
- Simmons: Boogie Hoops
- Simmons: 10 lessons learned from the 2001 Red Sox
- Simmons: The Ramblings
- Boston Sports Guy: Diary of a Mad Draftnik
- Boston Sports Guy: Haunted by Len Bias
- Sports Guy: Is Roger really the Antichrist?
- Sports Guy: Ewing Theory 101
- Boston Sports Guy: Hitting the NBA below the belt
- Boston Sports Guy: The Nomar Redemption