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September 2, 2020 33 mins

Let’s take a spin through the Gold Club, shall we? Eat some sushi, suck on a lobster claw, sip over-priced Dom Perignon, be ushered up to a VIP room by an entertainer for a lap dance from her and another buxom beauty, which might lead to something else… if the price is right.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:08):
School of Humans. This is Racket Inside the Gold Club
Episode two, Sex and Champagne. Three weeks after he took
over Atlanta's Gold Club, Steve Kaplan is home just north
of the city. He's there with his friend Thomas Cignano,

who goes by Ziggie. It's been a twelve hour day,
but they get a call from one of the club's managers.
He says, Charlotte Hornet star Larry Johnson is in town
and he wants to check out the Gold Club. Kaplan

loves basketball. He's dreamed of owning a team one day.
He even named his dog after the New York Knicks
wild card John Starks. And now Larry Johnson wants to
come to his club. He's a static at this point.
Kaplan is a wealthy businessman. He's made a fortune in

New York City, gobbling up storefronts and Penn Station and
Smoothie King franchises across the city. He also owns nightclubs
in New York and Florida. He's well connected. He could
get you tickets to sold out Broadway productions and front
row seats at Madison Square Garden. All this goes to
show that Kaplan knew how to play the game. He

knew how to maximize profits at a business, and with
Larry Johnson coming to the Gold Club, I could see
Kaplan's gears turning as he realized all the ways he
could capitalize off his strip club. The Gold Club's original owner,

John Kirkendall once described the Gold Club as a high
scale nightclub with cabaret and comedy shows. That description screams
old fashioned glamour, mulaan rouge, the cabaret, and the movie
The Can Can flesh colored tights. Remnants of that Gold
Club remained after Kirkandaal was bought out, or at least

remnants of this idea that the Gold Club was classier
than its competition, like the fact that its strippers weren't
even referred to as dancers, they were entertainers. I started
working there June of nineteen ninety six. This is Catherine,
She's going to give us a tour of the Gold
Club as she remembers it from working there as a

cocktail waitress in nineteen ninety six. And I'm pretty sure
that I worked there all the way until like March
of ninety nine, right before they started to get before
the FBI started, like wire tapping people and stuff like that.
Catherine worked the day shift. She'd arrived at soupm in
her Gold Club uniform. Our uniforms were actually really cute.

They were like a like a little sleeveless texedo shirt
and with like a little gold bow tie. And then
we had like they were like kind of like short short,
like little tuxedo short shorts. When Katherine arrived for a shift,
Valet parked her car. The lot was filled with limousines.
Kaplan made sure big spenders and important guests were taken

care of. He arranged transportation for them to and from
the club and style okay, So you walked through the
double glass doors. You would see the counter or the
pay counter to the right. Steve Kaplan's office was behind that.
The door was always closed. You'd pay the admission, you'd
walk through the turnstile. There was always a dorman there.

That doorman collected your ten dollar cover while appointment escorted
you inside. On a busy night, about twenty five of
them were on the clock when I first started working there.
The first thing you would see is a sushi bar.
So they had it was like you know, kind of
like neon letters above and it said sushi. That's an

upgrade from the lunch buffet the Gold Club used to have.
The raw bar had oysters, clams, lobs or tails, and
crab legs, and the kitchen was always open, serving up sticks, burgers, salads,
and sandwiches whatever a customer wanted. This was down a
couple stairs next to the VIP area where customers could

sit with entertainers and roped off areas next to a
mammoth bar. And if you turn to the right you
see the open floor. You would see tables and lounge chairs.
On the main floor is where you could get a
table dance for just ten bucks. There were like those

little the smaller, solid round, little cocktail tables because the
dancers could actually dance on those two so they were
they were I don't know, like maybe I don't know,
a foot and a half to two feet, you know,
but solid so that they could still stand on them.
You know. The carpet was black, that the upholstery was

black with maybe like little gold specks or something, but
it was all pretty pretty dark. On busy nights at
the Gold Club, over one hundred women were hustling for tips.
On the main floor. There were the strippers aka entertainers,
cocktail waitresses, and then the shooter girls who would sell
sugary shots and test tubes. They usually had big boobs

and then they would you know, they would put the
it was like the test tube right, and then they
would they would smash their babies, and then the guy
would be a try to get down there and get
the test tube out. And then the Christophers would do
it too right. They would sit and then you know,
do it backwards or you know, they had all kinds
of cute, little sexy whatever. You know, the guys would
be somewhat entertained. This is back before like sanitation. Who

knows how sanitizing things are up. And then the main
stage was kind of front and center. One entertainer would
take the main stage and dance through three songs, topless
on the second and full nude on the third. The
biggest main stage attraction was the Gold Club Review. Forty

entertainers would cascade down the two stairways to the main
stage to something like the Roquettes High Kick Finale. Imagine
being transported to a pass New York to Radio City
Music Hall during its Great Depression debut as American striptease
took hold in downtown speakeasies. The dressing room was off

to the left of the main floor, where entertainers kept
their costumes and evening gowns. Upstairs, the club became even
more exclusive. Two steps below the balcony was the viper
lounge where big spenders with sip champagne. And then at
the top of the staircase you'd find gold rooms one
through twelve. They had the gold curtains. Some rooms were smaller,

they were all neared, you know, inside the rooms. And
then it had you know, the glass, you know, so
you could come out of the VIP room and look
down at the main stage and you could kind of
see everything that was going on downstairs and upstairs if
you were outside the VAPO. The cost of admission dom
Perion at the very least cheers. We'll be right back.

There was no Gold club without champagne. Here's attorney Don Samuel.
We didn't sell beer, you know, we didn't sell Budweiser
to people. We didn't we didn't sell cocktails. We saw
sold bottles of dom Perion. And it's expensive and we
charged a lot of money. Um, it was our understanding

that we bought more dom Perion at the Gold Club
than any other entity in the country. So yeah, the
employee meetings were basically like, if you don't sell champagne,
we're going to fire you. Here's Catherine again, and we're
don't even like the like the big ones, you know,
we were, yeah, like the big Jerry bombs or whatever
they're called their champagne. Staff grew used to hearing this
during weekly meetings and the club's back alley run by

the club's managers. One manager was Norbert Calder, who went
by Norby, a tall and olive skin New Yorker who
Steve Kaplan recruited after being impressed with his work ethic.
He was always clean cut and wore crisp suits. Another
manager was Roy Chicola. He loved to work out and
ride motorcycles, but staff hated when the meetings were hosted

by Kaplan's friend and confidant, Ziggy, who was despised at
the club. He would call his bitches bitches. This is Wanda,
who was also a cocktail waitress at the Gold Club.
He would totally just the greatest, and that's what we're
here to do, and we're here to sell champagne and
you do what you have to do again, often calling

out the FFing bitches that we were. I was like, wow,
Like I never had anybody speak to me or speak
to their employees like that, Like basically, you guys are
all fucking idiots and scumbags. If you don't sell champagne
and you don't make the customer happy, then fuck you,
I'll fire you. The best way to sell champagne was

to get the customers to the gold rooms. Cost of
entry for a gold room was a thousand dollars membership
fee and at minimum won three hundred fifty dollars. Bottle
of champagne periazue rose cost two thousand dollars. If they
were sitting with a customer on the main level, they
would order a shot and get him to obviously order
a shot or a drink right and then and then

when they would go to the vip rooms, they would say, look,
you know, if we go to a vip room, this
is the prize, and you know, we have to order
a bottle a champagne. And normally if the guy was
already kind of of you know, going to go there,
he'd be like sure, if I'm whatever, So yeah, so
and then you know, the girls would get in there
and a lot of times we would just pour it out,
you know, so they would keep ordering. That's right. They

would dump out the champagne when the guy wasn't looking
like on the carpet. Yeah, literally, like they would be
and then we would just be like, uh, you know,
like looking at her tadies or it, were like just
pouring it out like that like that, Oh my god,
you know, like I used to wear a champagne and
you know, and guys, I mean, busts are they're just
like so happy to probably with a naked girl. They
don't know, they're not paying really attention to that or whatever.

They'd be like, hey, do you want a glass? Until
I pour myself a glass and sometimes leave the room
with the glass to champagne. During the grand jury testimony,
one stafford said Kaplan boasted of having the most expensive
carpet in the world, with its hundreds and hundreds of
thousands of dollars worth of champagne sales poured onto it.

He said that's why he gets it steamed like twice
a week and then and then two like when the
tip came, the part came a lot of times I
would just you know, write the tip in you know
what I'm saying, and then they would just sign it.
But the idea was kind of to get them obviously
tipsy so that they would spend more money or stay
an extra hour. This is where the Gold Club ran

into credit card problems. Along with entertainers and waitresses writing
in tips, some customers were told that they had to
sign their bill upon opening a tab, meaning customers were
consenting to the bill before they reviewed all the charges.
Anyone could write in additional tips or double charge for
champagne or the Gold Room. Schemes like this popped up

all over the Gold Club with various employees. One incident
happened with the club's gold books. Like casinos and other
ship clubs, the Gold Club offered its own currency, fake
bills you could buy with your credit card with a
twenty percent surcharge, which usually made people spend more money.
Attorney Don Samuel explains the gold bucks were, you know,

looked like monopoly money, frankly, and the theory behind the
gold bucks was that people were more willing to spend
monopoly money than they were to continually take out their
Amex card and the club wasn't interested in cash. So
what they would do is a customer would come in
and they would be encouraged to buy gold bucks, which

looked like cash in terms of you know, you know,
hundred dollar bills or you know, even larger denominations than that,
and you would use your Amex card or whatever credit
card to buy hundreds or even a couple thousand dollars
worth of gold bucks, and then the gold bucks became
the cash that you would use, and the gold bucks
would be used to pay the entertainers. But the you know,

the theory was that people were more willing to spend
money like that than they were to constantly be taking
out their credit card and running it through the machines,
and nobody had enough cash. Nobody would walk in there
with enough cash for the amount that they were getting
ready to spend, whether they knew it or not. Four
gold Bucks girls managed the distribution of the bucks. They

set up shop in a small booth off the main floor.
One of these girls got reprimanded because she and a
couple of the dancers have been double charging customers over
a few months, skimming additional money for themselves. Once the
managers and Kaplan discovered the scheme, money was docked from
the Gold Bucks girls pay until all the customers were

paid back in full. The Gold Club was one of
a kind and from some stats we found it was
able to make four times as much money as other
clubs in Atlanta. So what was it about the club
that made all these people go there and spend tens
of thousands of dollars in one night? Yeah? And I

did see all that stuff where the girls were giving
hand jobs and doing coke and you know, all that
kind of stuff in the rooms. What didn't happen in
my rooms a lot, But yeah, you would see, you know,
you would see that stuff. So I had one that
I actually looked up to. Her. She was very wholesome,
very beautiful, very natural looking, and and I don't remember

her name, but I do remember admiring her because she
was so beautiful. And and then I was, you know,
that was shattered because she had requested for me to
find her a condom, and I thought, oh dang, we

were stooping down this one. It was whatever it took,
this is racket. I'm Christina Lee. We'll be right back.
Even though Georgia had fully nude strip clubs, clubs draw

the line of touching the dancers or other employees. Entertainers
were fined if they allowed for such lewd behavior, and
floorman would warn customers if they got to touchy. Managers
like Norby and Roy would step in if an interaction
got out of hand. In one case, the Gold Club
charged a customer with battery after he touched a dancer

and then made the customer pay five thousand dollars to
drop the charges. So no touching was allowed. Technically, if
you get caught, you're dumb. You really do not need
to be working in a strip club as a prostitute
because you're stupid. There's no way you should be getting caught.

This is Jacqueline Cook formerly Jacqueline Bush inside the Gold Club.
She was Diva and Champagne was my middle name. I
sold over three hundred and fifty nine thousand dollars worth
of Champagne in six months. Well, it started back in

my hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was a single mom of
three little girls, and I had about three jobs at
the time, and one of them was at an adult
entertainment club and it was just topless. It's just a
dance place. And from there We used to get flyers
in the mail for the Gold Club in Atlanta and

went to visit and fell in love with Atlanta. Went
to the Gold Club at least three times and drove
off the parking lot because I was terrified, and I
just decided, I said, you know what, I'm going to
go for it, and I got the job and the
rest is history. Jacqueline quickly learned the ropes at the
Gold Club because working at a high end, infamous struck club,

especially in a big city like Atlanta, was cut throat.
When I first started at the club, it was hard,
like it was a dog eat dog world in that place,
and I didn't think I had the where all to
get through it. And one night, it was a bad,
bad night, this guy insulted me and treated me like crap,
and I went in the back and started crying. And

one of the girls walk back there and she said, listen,
She said, you came from a small town, but you
have big balls. She goes, And your new name is Diva,
she goes, and I want you to wear that name proudly.
You're doing well and as no, I'm not doing well.
It's all of a side. Do you guys think I'm
doing well, but I'm not. I struggled in the beginning.

It was really really hard. But I became friends with
a couple of girls and they kind of pushed me
to go up to VIP. They were like, you know,
get off the floor down there. You're better than that.
You can make good money. You got a good mouthpiece
on you being upstairs in the VIP. I was like,
you know what, I can do this because everywhere I

go I expect to be treated like a queen anyway,
so why not at work? Jacqueline quickly learned the roads
of Goal Club that the real work is strip wasn't
taking off your clothes, but creating a fantasy for the
men who came to the club. One. It's all in
how you approach a man and finding out what is
he there for that night, Like, it's not about you

the women. Some women think it's about them in the club,
but it's not. It's about the men. And the minute
that you can realize, Okay, every guy's in there for
a different reason, that's what makes you successful. You can
cater to his every whim and give him his little
fantasy for the night, and that's how you make your
money and honesty. You know, I just talked to him

like a friend would instead of just like a dancer
that's trying to get money out of him. It's all about,
as we call it in the industry, It's all about
the limo ride, from the time you've picked up to
the time you've dropped off. Jacqueline wrote a memoir about
her experiences at the Gold Club called The Jacqueline a

Bush Story, How I Went from Gold Room to Courtroom.
In it, she details how she became close with Kaplin
after an incident where she was hospitalized. One night, Jacqueline's
working at the club sitting with a customer. The customer
likes to drink wine, but he always insists on paying
the same amount as champagne for it. Jacqueline looks away

from her glass and an entertainer will call Shelley walks
by her. Shelley lives with Candy, who babysits Jacqueline's three
daughters when she's working nights. Jacqueline returns to her glass
and takes a sip of wine. She suddenly collapses to
the floor. Club manager Norby tries to resuscitate her. Someone
calls an ambulance. En route to the hospital, Jacqueline goes

into cardiac arrest. She gets sapped three times. She wakes
up four days later. She's in the hospital for three weeks,
and when she's finally able to return to her apartment,
she finds a place ran sacked. Everything of value is gone,
and there's an eviction notice. Jacqueline suspects Shelley and Candy

were responsible for drugging her, robbing her, and destroying her house.
Jacqueline had even given Shelley a check to pay for
her rent and utilities, but now Jacqueline can't get a
hold of either of them. Jacquelin's at a loss. Her
kids go to stay with her ex husband. She's staying
with an old flame when she gets a call from

another Gold Club manager named Jeff Johnson, who Jacqueline describes
as a low life piece of shit. Jeff tells her
she's suspended from the Gold Club for two weeks. Jacqueline
loses it. She demands a meeting with Steve Kaplan. She's
worked at the Gold Club for months and she's never
seen him. She remembers storming into his office and was

surprised that he was the owner. He was wearing sweats
and a baseball cap, far from meeting the dress code
of his own establishment. He was furious. He said, you
mean to tell me you were da and on rival
at the hospital, and nobody from my club called me
to tell me that one of my dancers was taken
out of here like this. I said, well, this is

your staff. He said, sit tight. So he called Norby
and Roy to the office and flew off the handle
like he cussed them out. I couldn't even believe two
grown men stood there and took that from him, so
that he pushed him out of the office, closed the door.
He looks at me, He's like, I'm so sorry this

happened to you, And then he had cursed at me
a couple of times. I guess, you know at that time,
I didn't know that's just how he talks. So I
turned around and I said, you can talk to those
guys that way, but you're not going to speak to
me like that. That's not what we're gonna do. You're
not going to talk to me this way. And he
looked at me, and I guess nobody's ever stood up

to him like that. He gave me five grand for
money that I missed while I was in the hospital,
which that wouldn't even cover it. And then he made
me go get dressed and do my makeup with the
makeup artist back there, and he took me out for
the night and we had the time of our life.
We came back to the club before closing, he took
me upstairs. He went to the DJ booth, got on

the microphone, and he announced to the entire club that
I'm untouchable. I can hire and fire, I can do
whatever I want in that club, and nobody can do
anything about it. My head swelled so big. I was
on top of the world. You couldn't tell me shit,
and I was making twenty to thirty thousand dollars a night.

Jacqueline was close with a lot of entertainers at the club.
They're Shaney together for the review, they performed an S
and M skit where Diva would drag her acrop the
floor on a leash. We did it off of the
song I Want to Fuck You Like an Animal, and
one of the I would chain up a girl and

drag her through the club, drag her across the stage.
It was kind of an S and M kind of
you know. It was kind of dark. It was a
dark show, but it was freaking amazing and the guys
loved it, loved it. Then there was Jana Pelness or
Frederic at the club. They tag teamed Gold Clubs Sundays
where they eat whipped cream off each other's bodies. She

and Frederic would perform oral sex on each other in
front of customers. Entertainers have their own boundaries of what
they were willing to do with customers. In her book,
Jacqueline outlined them into groups. So there were the vultures.
They were the ones up in the gold rooms, larning

thousands of dollars from customers. Then there were the sluts.
But even more promiscuous than the sluts were the sixty
nine girls. Sixty nine girls would do anything for guys
above six foot nine. The sixty nine girls, those are
the girls that will do anything, anything, and they do anything.

It's crazy. Complete privacy was still luxury. Most of the
rooms were only separated by tinted glass. Jacqueline devised a system.
There were decorative trees inside the club, and she said
those in the middle of the doors, and she'd pay
a bouncer to stand outside the door next to the tree.

There was one room with the door that was gold
Room seven, and that was the room where most of
Jacqueline's business took place. By gold Room seven was my room.
That was my room. All of my clients love Gold
Room seven because I had a door and my security
would stand outside the door and no one's allowed in

unless I said it was okay. I would have five
six rooms going in at one time with all my girls.
I had twenty girls working for me. And here's the thing.
Jacqueline knew how to make money, and the entertainers knew
she knew how to make money, so she started helping
them out. Ultimately, Jacqueline's lesson wasn't to withhold from selling sex.

It was a charge of premium for it and not
get caught. How I actually became a madam was an accident.
It wasn't even something I set out to do. I
had a large clientele base and a lot of the
girls would get you frustrated and be like, God, you're

always in a room, You're always making money. No, I'm like,
you could be making money too, but you're going about
it the wrong way. You're giving yourself away for scraps.
I just it blew my mind that you're giving your
body away for two hundred dollars. You're giving some strange
guy a blowjob for one hundred and fifty bucks. Like, honey, no,

that's not how you use your body. If you're going
to do that, there is a way to do it,
and you can make a ship ton of money doing it.
So a couple of girls, I brought them in under
my wing and I would put them in my rooms
with my clients, with their friends, and they would make
a thousand dollars an hour or more, and a lot
of times they didn't have to do anything, and they
couldn't understand how I was doing it. They're like, how

are you making all this money and you're not sleeping
with this guy? And I'm like, because they respect me.
Do you see me standing or dancing taking off my clothes. No,
that's what you guys are doing. I'm getting paid for
you guys to entertain my friends. How about that. In

the media storm around the Gold Club trial, Jaquelin gets
dubbed the Michael Jordan of sex. Here's the reality of
working in a strip club. While the highs were high,
the lows were really low from customer thinking that they
could do whatever they wanted to the managers yelling at them.

The gold Clock could be a hostile work environment for
the women working there. This is at some point I
had these these moments of clarity where I'm like, this
is like not normal. Here's Catherine again. And then just
you kind of lose your you think that all men
are like that. I had a real I got a
real distorted view of men and sexuality, and it was

kind of like the perfect storm, you know. It was
just a dark environment and then and manipulative. For Jacqueline,
there were nights where she could make tens of thousands
of dollars, meet celebrities, and eat the biggest crowd legs
in the city, but other nights stripping could be dangerous.

In her book, Jacqueline talks about having to get entertainers
to the hospital after overdosing on ghbing, better known as
the date rape drug. This is what Jacqueline says she
was poisoned with the night she went to the hospital.
Jacklin's by Rachel and one time a customer said he
wanted to fucker on a Confederate flag. And just because

sexual activity would happen in the club does not mean
that it always happened consensually. Women were groped and harassed
by customers. Lines were crossed. You know, you're in a
room with some strange guy and next thing you know,
he thinks it's okay to do that to you, and
it's not. I had a guy stick his finger in

my butt one time when I was dancing for him,
and I put my heel through his forehead. I thought
I killed him. Blood was everywhere and he passed out. Yeah,
I thought it killed him. I was like, oh my god,
but he stuck his finger in my butt and I've
jumped forward and I turned round and I just kicked
him in the face. I was just like, are you

kidding me? Who does that? Let's go back to the
story where basketball star Larry Johnson wanted to come to
the Goal Club. After they got the call from the manager,
Ziggie and Kaplan rushed back to the Gold Club. They
met Johnson had a good time before last call. Johnson

asked Ziggy whether he could send a dancer back to
his hotel. Ziggy says no. Kaplan couldn't believe what he'd
just heard, not from Johnson, but from Ziggy. Did you
see the way he was begging you to get a girl.
He said, this is the way we have to go
with these guys. In the indictment, it says that Kaplan

was directly involved with organizing sex between entertainers and important
guests at the club. He'd also arranged for entertainers to
go to their hotel rooms and even organize a trip
to South Carolina to service an entire basketball team. The
prosecution said the sex and champaigne amounted to an insidious
and illegal scheme which gets outlined as the formula. Upsell

the customer to one of the Gold rooms, max out
their credit cards by adding charges to their tab as
the customer gets more drunk, figuring the customer will be
too embarrassed to contest them, push over price bottles a champagne,
which often got poured onto the floor, to push even
more over price bottles a champagne, and after customers have

had several drinks, sell the Gold Club membership to them
at anywhere from one thousand to five thousand dollars, implying
that membership might come with a sexual encounter. Starting in
nineteen ninety six, the Gold Club was under surveillance, not
for credit card fraud, not for Champagne schemes, not even

for prostitution, but for Kaplan's longtime association with an infamous family,
the Gambinos. On the next episode of Racket, it's like
a festering cancer. I mean, if you're going to allow

it to grow and prosper, you're gonna have a problem
going forward. I didn't know they were mafia at first.
I hadn't. I didn't know, but it's definitely like a
feeling like I knew in that office was Steve Kaplin
that I was kind of like with a shark. My
Jewish boss is in the Italian mob. Now I'm Christina Lee.

This is Racket Inside the Gold Club. Oh my life
has been a racket. Racket, Oh my life, My life

has been the Racket. Inside the Gold Club is a
production of School of Humans and iHeartRadio Rackets, written and
narrated by me Christina 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 of Humans
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