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August 26, 2020 28 mins

The Gold Club was a famous Atlanta strip club that sported the sexiest, most provocative entertainment in the South, which drew patrons like Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, the King of Sweden, and Donald Trump. But, it all came to a grinding halt when the FBI raided the club in 1999, which led to a 100 page indictment from the federal government that read like a laundry list of scandals.


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Speaker 1 (00:08):
School of Humans. This is racket inside the Gold Club,
episode one Asshole Naked. So what's the Gold Club? The
Gold Club was a very upscale, very famous gentleman's club.

(00:30):
Let's use that worked and people from all over the country,
sports figures, politicians, everybody came to the Gold Club and
it was it was the spocta gum. You ride up
in front of the Gold Club. This is not one
of those fleas holes. Walking into the Gold Club was
like walking into the taj Mahal. You had people in tuxedos,

(00:54):
you had shirt and ties, you had security, you had everything,
and they made you feel welcome. I would chain up
a girl and drag her through the club, dragger across
the stage. It was kind of s and m kind
of and the guys loved it, loved it. There was
no competition for the kind of star power that you'd

(01:15):
see when you walked in the door. You know, entire
basketball teams would, professional basketball teams would come here and
you know, one of the athletes came in, they'd be
a big flourish'd be a big announcement. You know, Michael
Jordan has just arrived at the Gold Club. It was
an interesting experience I've never been around that many naked
women at the same time. You know, beautiful women. They were,

(01:36):
you know, incredibly attractive. You could go see naked women
dance just about anywhere in Atlanta, but when you went
to the Gold Club, you were buying an experience that
you were a high roller, that you were in the
best strip club and make yourself think, oh, yeah, you know,
it's costing me a lot, but boy, I can spend

(01:59):
this money and I'll get the best one spent almost
twelve thousand dollars. Would I went there, I knew what,
I'm going to have a good time. It's that, but
it's also this. I did see all that stuff where
the girls were giving hand jobs and doing coke and
you know, all that kind of stuff, and I thought, oh, dang,

(02:20):
we're stooping down this low. Atlanta's the Soomon Camorra the South.
It's a city that never sleeps except on Sundays when
we all need a break from the hustle. The big boobs,
the blow jobs, the threesomes, and oh my god, the champagne.
It wasn't simply content to have a rich clientele, but

(02:44):
also to essentially defraud some of these folks who clearly
were not paying attention to what they were signing. There
seems to be something sketchy going on. You know, you
order some champagne and some food, and you have some
dances and you get a bill for fourteen thousand, seven
ninety five dollars. I didn't know they were mafia at first.

(03:07):
I hadn't. I didn't know, but it's definitely like a feeling.
At some point, I had these these moments of clarity
where I'm like, this is late not normal. The Gold
Club mythology is all that. But I'm going to tell
you the real story, and it starts here the raid. Well,

(03:35):
that evening. You know, I normally came to the club,
and you know they knew me by name, so I
just walked straight in and they take me upstairs and
put me in the VIP room. That's where I go
every time I had a Blame American Express card, I

(03:59):
would open up a tab and the girls will come in.
All I can remember is that we were drinking champagne,
and when I got real, what can I say, When
I went over top, then I would spray the girls

(04:22):
with champagne. Well as the music was going on that
particular night it had stopped, and that's when the raid happened.
It's March nineteenth, nineteen ninety nine, and the FBI is
raiding a strip club in Atlanta called the Gold Club.

(04:45):
A thirty seven year old investor named Andrea is there.
I saw the handguns, and they have the lights and
things like that, the laser beams, and I see a
lot of them. Next thing I hear is a bunch
of screaming. I didn't hear any seeding, but I heard
a lot of screaming. So I stood up and the

(05:10):
whole club was deserted. Andre goes downstairs. He's questioned by
FBI agents. They asked me, was I involved in the
drug the prostitution? I think? And also was I a
member of their gang affiliation? Of what have? Six months

(05:36):
after the raid, the owner of the Gold Club, a
dozen employees, two police officers, a Delta employee, and a
New Yorker named Mikey Scars are indicted on more than
one hundred and fifty charges. It ends with one of
the longest and most delicious federal trials in the history
of the South. I'm Christina Lee. I got my start

(06:06):
as a journalist covering live music and nightlife in Atlanta.
That's how I learned that Atlanta is ubiquitous with strip clubs.
They're weaved into the fabric of our primary cultural export,
hip hop. Hip Hop artists like Little John, twenty one, Savage,
and Future have launched their careers at clubs like Blue Flame.

(06:26):
The expression make it rain originated inside the doors of
Magic City. I expense the Cheetah Lounges, Lobster Tail and
Swordfish Sandwich for a lunchtime interview with artists Rich Holmy Kwan,
and I've interviewed artists at Claremont Lounge, where sexagenarian strippers
flatten empty Budweiser cans between their tids. Clubs are located

(06:47):
around the city, but Cheshire Bridge Road is a hotspot
for sex shops, massage parlors, and strip clubs. That's where
you'll find Onyx, where Donald Glover filmed an episode of
his show Atlanta. A mile north up in Buckhead is
where the Gold Club once was. Unlike clubs like X
in Magic City, the Gold Club wasn't at the epicenter

(07:09):
of the Dirty South music revolution, but it was a
place for the rich and famous to play. Everyone knew
about it. Here's just some of the people who have
visited the Gold Club. Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Voice to Men,
Dennis Rodman, Bill Maher, Wesley Snipes, Bruce Willis, Mick Jagger,

(07:32):
Jim Belushi, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Heianna Reeves, Donna, and
Donald Trump. By the way, in two thousand and one,
a Trump spokeswoman denied that Donald Trump was even a customer.
He's never been to the what is it the Gold Cafe.

(07:52):
When Atlanta hosted the Olympics in nineteen ninety six, dignitaries
from around the world came to the club, including the
King of Sweden. The fact that celebrities were at the
club was a huge draw for local coming to the
Gold Club, But like all of Atlanta strip clubs, its
biggest attraction was women who got asshole naked, a turn

(08:13):
coined by Magic Cities. Little Magic. Georgia is one of
the few states that allows clubs to have a full
bar and fully nud dancers. It's usually nudes, but no
boos or booze with no nudes, even at New York's
infamous Scores, which was recently featured in the movie hustlers.
Strippers are required to wear at least a G string.

(08:34):
Gold Club's lawyer Alan Begner explains how Atlanta got to
be Asshole naked. The Atlanta adult entertainment establishments have existed
as a nude since nineteen seventy. They went from pasteys
and G strings the bras with tassels to nude. At
the time, the prosecutor tried to stop the play Hair

(08:57):
from going nude at the Civic Center. That's right. What
changed the strip club landscape in Atlanta was a traveling
production of the musical Hair. Hair is a countercultural musical
about a tribe of politically active hippies protesting the Vietnam War,

(09:18):
and in nineteen seventy it was controversial for many free
love and anti war reasons, especially in the conservative cell.
The brief nude scene closing act one got the most flack.
In Georgia, City officials called it obscene. They didn't want
Hair performed because it was quote not the kind of
entertainment they felt was proper or desirable in Atlanta. Turns

(09:42):
out those concerns weren't constitutional, and a federal judge, Newell
Edenfield ruled that nudity was not obscenity, and all the
Atlantic clubs went new the next day. I remember arguing
to a judge that there was nothing a woman could
do with her breasts that was criminal, and I think

(10:02):
the judge agreed. Atlanta got its product of hair and
an unintended byproduct fully nude strip clubs, and whether the
city liked it or not, strip clubs became one of
Atlanta's biggest selling points. Here's what happened in the late eighties.

(10:25):
Atlanta was booming as a convention city. It built the
World Congress Center, one of the largest convention centers in
the country. But the problem was that downtown Atlanta didn't
have a robust nightlife. There weren't a lot of restaurants
or tourist attractions enter strip clubs. If you went to
a convention in the eighties or nineties, strip club employees

(10:47):
would be outside passing out flyers for conventioneers. So going
to conventions in Atlanta it became ubiquitous with going to
strip clubs. Here's Begner again. The conveniens that came every year,
the Bobbin Show, sports, the poultry industry, others told the
city they were only going to come here if there

(11:08):
was new dance clubs for their conventioneers. In eighty seven,
the state passed a law banning new dancing and alcohol clubs,
and these conventions went to the Chamber of Commerce in
the city and sit if they weren't there, they're not
coming back, And so the city quietly took our side
of the battle. The law was stricken immediately by the

(11:31):
Fulton County Superior Court judge and never went into effect,
but the industry has been supported by every mayor since
the seventies. Now Atlanta city officials aren't bending over backwards
to support the clubs, but they do see them as
a positive economic investment. Does it takes advantage of it

(11:52):
and benefits from it economically, but doesn't always do so
in a way that's very explicit. This is Josh Humphreys,
the Director of Housing and Community Development with the City
of Atlanta. Today, the nightlife economy, which includes bars, hotels,
and strip clubs gross is about five point four billion
dollars in annual revenue and makes up for about fifty

(12:15):
thousand jobs. The identity of the city is it's a
place you're going to come and have a good time.
Right there's a there's a lot of reputation within that. Oh, well,
these professional athletes, they were playing in Atlanta last night
and they had a lay over there, so they're gonna
they're gonna have a rough game tonight because they were
in Atlanta. Right, there's that type of reputation of it.
You're gonna you go there to have a good time.

(12:40):
Atlanta's good time economy has had its ups and downs.
In the mid nineteen eighties, there were some instances where
strip club rivalries got out of hand. Retired Atlanta journalist
Jeff Doer remembers the first story he saw on TV
was just that on Cheshire Bridge Road there were two
strip clubs across the street from each other, and turn

(13:02):
on the news. We're just looking for a house to
move here, and the story was that the owner of
one of the strip clubs had just run out of
his strip club. I guess in the middle of the
night with a maltof cocktail and threw it in the
strip club across the street and ran back. Thought, Oh,
this is gonna be a good Newstown. In nineteen eighty seven,

(13:29):
construction began on a new strip club in town, the
Gold Club. The club was a five thousand square foot
platt Art Deco inspired building with gold trim. It cost
four million dollars to build. Before it opened, the city
revoked the club's liquor license. The owners were two brothers,
Stephen and David Manley and their business partner, John Kirkendall,

(13:53):
and on their liquor license application they didn't disclose that
a strip club they owned in Dallas was being investigated
for perjury, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. They sued
the city for denied their liquor license and one everything
was running smoothly until the affluent surrounding neighborhood revolted. Yeah,

(14:14):
and in fact, we lived in Garden Hills, so very
close to there. And when it was being built and
we knew this is going to be a great, big
strip joint right next to our neighborhood. Some of the
young mothers in the neighborhood picketed, and my wife was
one of them, pushing a baby stroller around the future

(14:35):
Gold Club, trying to get city council to not let
it open. There. There were all these stories about, oh,
it's just going to bring sex and crime to the
neighborhood and you know, just going to ruin the area,
and it turned out, actually it didn't happen. I mean,
whatever was going on inside pretty much stayed inside. I'm
Tina Lee. This is racket. We'll be right back. In

(15:08):
the nineties, most strip clubs in Atlanta were making five
to seven million dollars a year, but not the Goal Club.
At its height, it made over twenty million. The club
boasted four elevated stages, Vegas inspired lighting and choreography, dom Perion,
and semi private rooms. It staffed twice as many dancers

(15:28):
as at the clubs. All the spectacle was to inspire
you to spend a shit ton of money. One Gold
Club story that gets passed around is about a Louisiana
lawyer down on his luck in debt twenty five thousand dollars,
but one day he want one hundred thousand dollars lottery
and immediately drove to Atlanta and dropped half his winnings

(15:48):
in one night. He asked no regrets. It was a
good time, but some customers would wake up after a
night at the Gold Club, see the charges on their
credit card and accuse the club of fraud. Some of
these stories were frankly kind of funny. This is Scott Henry,
Atlanta nightlife journalist, and you really wondered what these people

(16:09):
did for a living and how they could be soap
lause about their money. I remember there was one guy
who went there and I think he ended up challenging
a bill that was twenty five thousand dollars or something
like that for maybe four hours. And they asked him
how much he had intended to spend, and he said

(16:32):
maybe ten. And that's just inconceivable to most folks that
you would spend ten thousand dollars on a night out
and not really have anything to show for it. There
was one I remember because it was over one hundred
thousand and it was in two hours, two and a

(16:53):
half hours. Gold Club lawyer Begner tells us about an
incident at the club where the president of a trucking
company was trying to impress his executive staff. He ordered
drinks and food for everyone and said he tit the
Gold Club staff one hundred percent if they literally ran
to get their lie patients. And so they had dancers
from running, I mean, bartenders and waitresses running around and stuff,

(17:17):
and so they ended up over one hundred thousand dollars
and they thought they had been cheated. I don't know it.
That was a case where I don't think it was
a fraud at all. Defending credit card fraud lawsuits was
just another day at the Gold Club. Even before the
FBI got involved. Begner would have to take a lot

(17:38):
of these cases to court because the Gold Club didn't
want to settle the disputes. Begner has represented almost every
massage parlor, sex toy store, and strip club in Atlanta,
but the Gold Club have the most credit card complaints
by far compared to his other clients. One of Begner's
favorite credit card cases against the Gold Club involves a vampire.

(18:00):
As he tells it, a regular came in to see
a Gold Club dancer. She was joking around and said
she was going to show him the vampire bite. She
bit his cheek a bit too hard. It blood to
staff clean him up. Besides the mark, he was fine
until he got home and his wife saw the bite,
but even worse his credit card bill. So when he

(18:23):
went home is it turned out he had been lying
to his wife about where he was going, and he
confessed to her that he had been the Gold Club
and the dance or had bit him, and that's how
he got cut, and she was so mad at him
that she threw him out of the house, would never

(18:44):
again let him even see their sons, who were fairly old,
like ten and eight or something, you weren't babies, and
divorced him, and he sued, saying he had perfect marriage
until then, but he had to allege and prove that
we knew there was a vampire working for us at

(19:04):
the Gold Club, and that we let her still work
there knowing that she was a vampire and might injure
people with the vampire bide. On top of an alleged
vampire and dispute of credit card charges, ownership of the
Gold Club resulted in a dramatic power struggle. In nineteen

(19:33):
ninety three, an Iowa investment banker sued the Gold Club,
claiming that a bouncer beat him up. He won the
part owner and financier John Kirkendall couldn't pay the jury
award without going bankrupt. It was over three hundred thousand dollars.
Enter Steve Kaplan. Growing up, Kaplan helped run his father's

(19:58):
newspaper stand at Penn Station in New York. He went
on to own several Penn Station storefronts and nightclubs and
York in Florida. Kaplan offered to help Kirkndall pay this
guy off, run the Atlanta locations, daily operations, and plot
franchises across the states in Canada. If that sounds too
good to be true, that's because it was. Kaplan invested

(20:22):
in the Goal Club. He became half owner, but within
a few weeks assigning the deal, Kirkendall sued him. Here's
Begner again. And then he and Kirkndall, Stephen kirkindall hated
each other. They had their own private award that I
wasn't in. They were suing each other for about was
going to run the club, and they had all these

(20:46):
lawyers involved in all these cases. Every day a sheriff
would serve some different order, kicking one out for the other.
In grand jury testimony, Kirkendall said he was uneasy about
the partnership from the beginning. They brokered the fifty fifty
ownership deal on Christmas see nineteen ninety three and upstate

(21:07):
New York. Kirkndal said Kaplan agreed to pay the lawyer
fees and did so by handing over brown paper bags
stuffed with cash. This was just the beginning of the
toxic Kirkandaal Kaplan partnership. The two businessmen had very different
ideas about how to run the club. According to Kirkandaal,

(21:28):
Kaplin immediately took over transforming the club. He painted the
interior black, brought in wall size mirrors, and started construction
on VIP rooms upstairs in the balcony. At one point,
Kirkndal changed the locks on the building and hired armed
guards to keep Kaplin out of their club. The tug

(21:50):
Awar was digging a financial hole that neither of them
could afford. A few months into nineteen ninety four, Kaplan
bought Kirkandall out for three million dollars. No more locked doors.
The keys were his right back. The night the FBI

(22:14):
rated the Gold Club, Andre, the regularly met earlier, was questioned.
In the six months prior to the raid, Andre had
spent one hundred seventy five thousand dollars at the club.
He was nervous the FBI had something on him. Immediately
that night, I called my attorney and he says he

(22:34):
got to be kidding me. Let's say yeah. So he says,
why were you in there? And he never knew I
went in there. He never knew it, and he says, well,
we got to do some work, and then that's when
the trial had. Over the next two years, Andrea has

(22:59):
called into grand jury testimony. He's interviewed by the FBI
and the media. Andrea is called to the courthouse to
testify at the Gold Club trial. I was brought up
and this is what scared me. Okay, they brought me
up through a certain area in the courtroom to testify,

(23:23):
and I left that way. I didn't walk out the
general public area. They felt I had some information that
would send Steve Kaplan to prison or his constituence, because

(23:43):
I didn't. I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't
know where Steve Kaplan that went to. I was told
to not get in contact with him, to not answer
any of his calls. He knew where I lived. Some
people did come by my house, but I never answered
the door. So after that trial, I spake our strip

(24:09):
clubs for a long time. Here's journalist Scott Henry. If
you were there at a bachelor party or they're on
a Friday night down on the floor, you expected that
there were probably crazy things going on in the mezzanine area,
and you would see people go up to the rooms

(24:32):
that were cordoned off, and and so it wasn't a
stretch to imagine that the jets said and famous people
and Underworld characters were all convening in the rooms upstairs.
But Henry couldn't have imagined how crazy those upstairs antics were.

(24:56):
Even Begner, who worked closely with the Gold Club, felt
that something was off. So the other thing about it
was when I would go by to visitors on my
way home. So from the office and the Gold Club,
no one had time to visit with. They were like
they were always busy. They were locked up into some

(25:19):
office and couldn't and couldn't come down to visit with
or they'd come down to say hello and said they
didn't they had to go somewhere else. So that I
always have that eyd. It just was an atmosphere of aggressiveness.
The Gold Club charges included racketeering, prostitution, credit card fraud,

(25:41):
money laundering, wire fraud, loan sharking, extortion, obstruction of justice,
airline fraud, corruption, and a conspiracy to funnel money to
organized crime. The Gold Club trials became front page news
media outlets around the world were covering it not only

(26:02):
because of the extensive charges, but because of the selation
bousness of the story. The Gold Club Trial has everything.
A page sixth story is hungry for horny athletes, fraud,
raunchy sex, prostitution, and even the mob. This season will
go beyond the Gold Club headlines, taking you behind the
scenes of the infamous club and the notorious trial. On

(26:30):
the next episode of racket Um, it was our understanding
that we bought more don perion at the Gold Club
than any other antity in the country. It was more
don perion bought by the Gold Club on a monthly
basis than any other restaurant or any other bar. And
it was about selling champagne. And you know, he would

(26:52):
call his bitches, you bitches, you effing you know, and
that I'm sorry, I don't even know if I can
say that word. Yeah, and I and I and I
did see all that stuff where the girls were giving
hand jobs and doing coke and all that kind of stuff.
You really do not need to be working in a
strip club as a prostitute because you're stupid. There's no

(27:15):
way you should be getting caught. I'm Christina Lee. This
is Racket Inside the Gold Club. Oh My Life has
been Rocking a racket. Racket, Oh my Life, My life

(27:45):
has been a rack. Oh my Life. Racket Inside the
Gold Club is a production of School of Humans and
I Heart Radio Rackets, written and narrated by me Christina

(28:06):
Lee and produced by Gabby Watts. Caroline Slaughter is our
supervising producer, Special thanks to Taylor church In Sonambashi. Music
is by Claire Campbell and sound design and mixes by
Tune Welders. Executive producers are Brandon Barr, Elsie Crowley and
Brian Lavin, along with Scott Grubman and Lauren Zimmerman. School

(28:59):
of Humans
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