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September 30, 2020 34 mins

The trial starts with a bang and a legendary table dance by an inconceivable presenter… where do we have to go from here? As the jury would find out - with the courtroom antics, unforgettable witnesses and non-stop drama - very far.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:08):
School of Humans. This is racket Inside the Gold Club,
Episode six Tantrums and Torture. As an episode title gives away,
this episode contains details of graphic violence from a few
good men to judge Judy. Pop culture has loved to

dramatize what happens inside the courtroom. In the musical Chicago Chorus,
Girl Roxy Heart's lawyer tells them to give him the
old razzle dazzle that'll shake off a murder charge. Here's
lead defense attorney Steve Sado trials our theater, but with
freedom and liberty and steak. It's not simply about how

well you perform. It's performance that ends in a given result.
But the most scandal is parts of the Gold Club
Trials were juicier than fiction. Day two featured a damn
table dance. It's May fifteenth, two thousand and one. This

was all let's say method acting by Jacqueline Bush's lawyer,
Bruce Harvey. For his opening statement, he spoke in the
first person as if he were Bush himself. You know,
I don't understand this. I'm charged in a racketeering conspiracy
that starts in nineteen eighty three. Nineteen eighty three, that's

count one of the indictment. That's where I start. I
was born in October of nineteen sixty eight. Let's figure
that out. So when this racketeering enterprise started, I was fourteen,
fourteen years old. Harvey wondered how the Gold Club's premiere
exotic dancer and champagne saleswoman got mistaken for a racketeer

and a prostitute, and figured he had no choice but
to demonstrate the difference. And I had my counsel hit
hit the button on the boom box and jumped onto
the table and said, here's what Jackie Bush does. Here's
what she does. She's not a decision maker. She strips.

And I started dancing, and I was taking my coat off,
and I was swinging my coat over my head, and
everybody was going, holy shit, what the fuck is this.
I don't know whether anybody else has really ever jumped
up on the table in federal court in an opening statement.
There's a certain style that he's developed. Again, here's sado.
Bruce is a really good looking guy, ponytail, tall, thin, traumatic,

tremendous courtroom presses. The presiding judge for the trial, Judge
Willis Hunt, wasn't impressed. He tells Harvey to get off
the table, but Harvey wasn't finished. I'm thinking, Okay, what
can I do next? On my ideas got shot down.
The place was packed, so I put my cope back on.

I walked out into the audience and I just picked
out some poor guy that was sitting there. I had
no idea who he was or anything like that. And
I sat down next to the guy and I started
talking to him, and I said, Hey, how's it going?
Can will you buy me a drink? What are you
doing here? Where are you from? You know? I started

giving him that the whole dancer kind of seduction routine
to get him to buy me a bottle of champagne.
Guy was totally embarrassed. I remember he was like turning
beat red between the athletes and the mobsters set to
testify a swarmer. Media had already descended upon downtown Atlanta,

but then ESPN and the New York Times caught wind
of the stripteas by the silver ponytailed lawyer. Everybody said
my dance sucked and that I'd never make any money
for either myself or my employer. So no, there was
there wasn't a career change. But I know that at
the end of the day, it's going to be in

my epitast. It's certainly going to be in my eulogy,
and then everybody will start laughing and go home. Unfortunately
for the judge, Harvey's table dance wouldn't be the first
time the court was out of order, you know, for

opening statements and closing arguments. The courtroom was just packed.
I don't think I don't think there was an empty
seat in the in the courtroom. This is Bill Rankin,
who's a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He covered
the whole trial. He'd had the government with Art Leech
and Glenn Baker and some of the agents someone. Then
you have all all these defense attorneys and their clients

on the other side, and there was Judge Willis Hunt,
who is if I thought he'd handled the case as
well as he could, he was. I think his main
challenge was just order between the attorneys, because there was
a lot of vitriol. I mean, this was no holds barred,
and they got real personal a couple of times, especially

during opening statements, where there were accusations from the defense,
and Judge Hunt called him out on it with these
interpersonal conflicts, perhaps Judge Willis Hunt didn't stand a chance.
They know what the government wants to hear, and they
believe that's what salvation is. They believe it's with the devil.
That's what they believe it is. They believe it's with

the persecutor. I mean the prosecutor. This is from the
opening statement of Dwight Thomas. Thomas represented Reginald Bernie, the
retired officer accused of tipping off the goal club of
permit checks and police raids. And it was a big
deal that he called Art Leach a persecutor instead of
a prosecutor. I don't know if that was a slip

of a tongue and that that's Thomas today. Back then,
he tried to Brush's mistake off. But when Leech raised
an objection, saying that he wouldn't tolerate such personal attacks,
Thomas didn't. Sounds sorry. It's kind of like my mom
has said, hit dog, holler. He said, mean that you

if you throw a rocket a doll and you hate him,
he'll yell. Well, I threw a rocket somebody in that
courtroom and they yelled. Tensions were high, and during the
course of opening statements Sado actually almost got hit. An

FBI agent who had been working the case, Mark Sewll,
threw a videotape at him. In September two thousand, prosecution
wanted to arrest Steve Kaplan for contacting Jennifer Romanello, the
Gold Club's old receptionist and Norby's girlfriend, who became an
eye witness. His attorney said Kaplan didn't realize this was illegal. However,

Steve said all suggested that it was far more inappropriate.
Was Mark Sewell's relationship with Romanello. We had gotten her
telephone records and there were some very late night calls
from her number in Florida where she was to an
Atlanta area code. And I talk about late night, I'm

talking about three in the morning, four in the morning,
the time when people should be sleeping. Sad I'll discovered
that all these late night phone calls were to Mark Sewel.
So I start asking her questions about agent su and
her response to that is, well, you know I've talked
to Mark many times, not agents who Mark. So I'm

talking I'm asking your questions about how often did she
talk to him? He's only supposed to be an agent.
And then I pull out the phone records and I say,
and when you talk to him at three am on
this day, were you talking about the case? Wait? Let
me see, you're not married, right, But mister Sue is correct,

and you're calling him at three am in the morning.
What are you all talking about? Are you trying to
give him some information that you just happen to remember? Oh? No,
Mark and I just to talk all the time about
all kinds of things. And Sue is sitting there at
the prosecution's table and he's getting redder and redder and redder.

And you can tell, obviously the whole thing here is
something's going on between the two of them. When she
gets off the stand, the judge leaves, and now the
courtroom is Sue and me and a few of the defendants,
and Sue is steaming, and he looks at me and

he says, how dare you suggest that I was having
an affair with her? And I said, I haven't said
any such thing. And he lost it, and he picks
up a video tape and throws it at me in
the courtroom and begins to march towards me, gets in

my face. I don't lose it. I just stand there
and he just goes off. Steve Saydal and the government.
They locked horns all the time. Journalist Bill rankin again.
But I think the agents in the case didn't care
for him at all. And there was one moment when
he was Steve was asking the prosecution for a video

date that they had promised to turn over, and Mark
Zeul just flung it at him like thurn it at
him like a frisbee and stunned him. When court resumed,
they reported it to Judge Hunt and our leach out
to apologize, and I think that says a lot about
what was going on, you know, and you don't see
that kind of thing. You know, people are more professional,

and you'd hope they had had enough of each other,
even though they had a long way to go. The
judge comes back out and he says, I understand that
there was a bit of a problem, mister saint out,
Do you want us to do anything about that? And
I said, oh, no, your honor. Things like that just

kind of happened in trials. As May turned to June,
Judge Hunt threatened a mistrial over the complete lack of decorum.
We'll be right back on April thirtieth, two thousand and one,

A couple of weeks before the trial, the Atlanta Journal
Constitution ran a front paid story about all the mobsters
who would be taking the stand. It explained how Art
Leach arranged for these men to testify and in exchange,
he'd recommend reducing their sentences. It was written by Bill Rankin.
One day, Steve Sado gave me a call and said

I could come over to his office and look at
some files he had put together. And I'd spent hours
and hours reading through all the deals that these mobsters
and really violent people were getting from the government. It
was kind of chilling, actually to see what some of
these people had done. The story also quote Sado who said,

if you were to look up the words liar and
criminal in the dictionary, the names of these witnesses could
be included in the definitions. And the thing is giving
Rankin all of this information was intentional on Sado's part.
He wanted this story to run. I had spent months
and months listening to how bad the Gold Club was,

all these leaked stories about the individuals and what people
were supposedly saying, and what had happened to them, and
how horrible it was, so I gave Bill Rankin in
the AJC enough information about these sortid witnesses for him
to write basically a Sunday story of several pages outlining

who would be expected to testify against Steve Kaplan and
the Gold Club. And the story was astonishingly detailed. The
AJC story begins one star witness cut a man's ear
off in a bathtub. Another shot a woman in the

neck after she dropped her kids off at school. A third,
a self proclaimed two bit leg breaker, beat a man
with an axe handle. Sadal's hind releasing this information about
the sordid government witnesses just right. The article came out
the day of jury selection. That way, the fact that

Art Leech was reducing sentences for murderers would be fresh
in the minds of the public and potential jurors. The
government was so upset because now for the very first time,
it's terrible witnesses had been exposed. Jury's election went well.

Leech next two of the original twelve jurors. One of
them used to work in Miami. More specifically, he used
to install AC units in an apartment complex the juror
knew was owned by the mafia. The defense blocked a
Christian radio listener, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving,
and a Jehovah's witness. Judge Hunt also disqualified jurors who

were either devoutly religious or believed that new clubs should
be banned. Sata was so pleased with this election he
told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, It's the best jury I've
seen in twenty years in federal court. Defense was intent

on showing that the most unsavory characters in the courtroom
weren't the people on trial, but the ones under witness protection.
Rangan's AJC story would be brought to life before the
jury's eyes. The jury had to come face to face
with prosecution's eyewitnesses, mobsters, torturers, killers. Early on in the trial,

there was one snaphou Art Leach had John Gotti Junior
transported from a New York prison to Atlanta, but Gotti
Junior pleaded the fifth he did not testify. Leach never
explained why he brought Gotti down from New York, not
even to Gotti's lawyer. But if the point was to
show how dangerous it would be for the mafia to

infiltrate the South he already had plenty of eyewitnesses and
they were getting good deals. Bill Rankin wrote about one witness,
Dino Basciano, in his article. They asked him all the
stuff he'd done, and he said, murder, conspiracy to murder,
attempted murder, armed robbery, burglary, arson, cocaine trafficking, gun trafficking,

and a couple of others. He said, you name it,
we did it. But he got an incredible deal from
the prosecutors to testify in the Gold Club case. He
said he had been paid by the government one hundred
and eighty eight thousand dollars to relocate his family six times,
and instead of getting a life sentence, he was given

six years in prison. And I guess his most important
test on he at the trial was that he saw
Kaplan slip envelope stuffed with cash to a Gambino crime captain,
Shorty Mascusa. Another eyewitness was Big John Gibbons. At the time,
he was a four hundred pound gangster who had some

dealings with Kaplan at his club. In book A Raton,
Michael de Leonardo's lawyer, Craig Gillen cross examined him. Gillan
asked Gibbons to walk through all the criminal acts Gibbons
had done, starting with routinely beating people up, which Gibbons
called wamping people up. And I walked him through on

cross examination all the things that he did and all
in the things that he would do to save himself. Yeah,
all right, you know you've talked about beating people up.
He would call one thing him up. You know you'd
do this, you'd do that, that's right. Now. Another thing
you would do is you worked in deception, correct, you
would dress up as a federal agent, FBI agent or

d agent with your buddies, and then you would then
have badges, warrants. What you would stop known drug dealers
in South Florida, get out with walkie talkies, pretend like
you're arresting them, arrest them so their bodyguards aren't jumping
in and creating a fight with you. And then what

you did is you didn't take them, did you, mister Givens.
You didn't take them to jail, of course not. You
took them back to your torture chamber. Well, what do
you mean by the torture team, Well, you know your apartment, correct,
And that's when you began the process of torturing them. Yes,

to be precise, Given's torture chamber was his bathtub, your bathtub, correct,
because you wanted to have people in the bathtub because
it helps, you know, with that messy cleanup problem when
you've been cutting people up all day and can just
hose down the tub. That's right. Gillan then explained Given's

torture methods. This part is pretty gruesome, so skip forward
a couple of minutes if you'd rather spare yourself the details.
By the way, torturing people is hard work, isn't it.
It can be. You can really work up a sweat
torturing people. Yes, you can. We went through all the
things that he did. He would he would, you know,

slice up people's nostrils and put lits cigars up their nostrils.
He would threatened to cut off their their testicles. He
would you cut off one NaN's ear. Whatever it took
to get the information is what mister Gibbons was prepared
to do. Now, when you're torturing somebody, there's this there's

a fine line between torturing somebody enough and inflicting enough
pain on them so that they will tell you where
the drugs and money is correct, that's right, but not
too much pain where you kill them. Correct, that's right,

because then they can't tell you where the drugs and
money is. That's correct. Killan looked over at the jersey.
They're horrified, looks set at all and they look on
their faces. They're simply horrified at this guy being in
the witness chair, being that close to them. And then

we get down towards the end. So I said, well,
so then you became a government witness. Yes, but you
did that because you were indicted by the government and
you conspired to have every single witness in your trial murder. Correct.

Now you got caught on that, so you weren't able
to get them. You weren't able to have them killed,
That's right. So I guess you decided. I'm kind of
on a roll at this stage, So I guess you
decided that if you can't kill them, you want to
join them. Gilan is insinuating that the only reason Gibbons
is testifying is because he knows he will get less

present time if he does so, not because he knows
of any criminal activity Kaplan Leonardo and the rest of
the Goal Club defendants did, but to save himself. And
you know what all these people wanted to do is
they wanted to give testimony sufficient to where the government
would say, all right, we're going to give you not

only witness relocation money, but we're going to let you out.
And what they really wanted to do, and I think
it was the most frightening thing to me, to everyone
in the jury, was that these were people that were
eventually going to be back in our community. Bill Rankin
felt a similar way to Gillen about the mafia witnesses

that the crimes they had committed were so much worse
than whatever the Goal Club defendants were being accused of
that it was ridiculous to have them testify to get
time reduced. You know, they cut so many deals with
these really bad guys. You know in the government probably
would have said, you know, we cut deals with sharks
to catch you know, bigger fish, but some people would

say they were letting a whale go to catch minnows.
In the Gold Club case, they're cutting deals with killers
and torturers to get a guy who runs a strip club.
So I think it's just a matter of proportion. There
were no murders here, and that I knew of so
you kind of were left wondering, why go to all

this trouble. We'll be right back. Between all the ridiculous moments,
there was plenty of time to doze off. Some testimonies
went on for days, specifying and rehashing details that seem mundane,

but the jury at the Gold Club trials sat attentively.
They reacted to powerful testimony. They had a sense of humor,
especially when Art Leech's PARADEI of Gangsters took the stand.
One of the witnesses, David Campo, tried disguising himself with
dark shades and a fake beard. The next day, the
jurors all wore Graucho glasses to mock him. But then

this tactic of bringing in gangsters started backfiring on the prosecution.
Jurors were getting fatigued with all the gruesome details, especially
when the connection these men had to the Gold Club
seemed unclear. The jurors started to ask, why are these
guys here? Prosecutor Art Leach was frustrated. He thought the

jurors were missing the point. The Kaplan's alleged involvement with
the mob meant that he was culpable enabling these dangerous
people to do their work. They it should have been
able to see at this point just how dangerous these
people are. You know, this is a real organization. It's

an organization where you've got people like Kaplan who are
the earners. In other words, they're generating the money to
keep the organization going. But when they need somebody killed,
they have people like those people that I've but on
the stand who with the telephone call can go out
there and murder someone and then go off and have
their dinner. He brings up the Sopranos at the time

of the trial, it's in its third season, and from
my perspective, that is what I'm seeing in the Sopranos,
because that was portrayed in the Sopranos as well. But
the jurors were looking, i think, viewing the Sopranos kind
of in a romantic sort of way and ignoring the

really ugly side of what mafia organized crime is all about.
Art Leach may well have a point about this. Also
in the courtroom with the defendants was Michael de Leonardo,
the alleged mobster and capo. Leet said he was at
the top of the Goal Club operation, with Kaplan, handing

off money and protection feast him to give to the Gambinos.
The Leonard was a larger than light presence. Attorney Bruce
Morris was very impressed by him. Michael de Leonardo was
the slickst and I don't mean slick in a negative way,
slick as in right out of GQ magazine. This guy

was about, you know, five eleven, combed his hair straight back,
was you know, a reasonable build, not not slender but
not too muscular, and certainly not overweight. Wore you know,
tailored suits. You could see your reflection in a shine
on his shoes. You know, his shirt was freshly pressed.

And he was very quiet, kept to himself, and was
reputed to be quite the ladies man. He was very
he was very courteous. He was the guy if ten
of us were walking into the courtroom, he would be
the guy to hold the door open for everyone else.
And what made Michael de Leonardo even more alluring as

a character was his nickname Mikey Scars. He wore literal
scars on his face. His lawyer, Craig Gillen, used the
Leonardo's gritty appearance to his advantage. No, these scars weren't
battle scars, So I unveil this big, huge poster, the

picture of poor little innocent Michael Dellionardo, eleven years old
with his face had had been chewed up by a
dog in the neighborhood. And literally, in that second Mikey
Scars was transformed from this pirate like scary guy into

the eleven year old Michael de Lionardo who had been
the victim of a dog attack and left scars on
his face, and literally you could see in the jury
kind of walking back. I could see two or three
people on the jury tearing up because they must have
had the same impression everyone else did that Delionado had

to get these scars in some sort of nassive street fight.
But that wasn't the case. By week twelve, one juror
was dismissed because he couldn't take what he was seeing anymore.
Judge Hunt some of the lawyers to his chambers to
break the news. Here's how to Attorney Steve Saydal. Judge

Hunt one morning says, I need all the lawyers to
come into chambers. We have to take up a very
serious matter. Judge Hunt starts telling a story about one
of the jurors and the judge says, one of the
jurors came to see me and he told me that
he had done a bad thing. So, now you know,

we're all on the edge of our seats. We're trying
to figure out what's going on. Is this going to
throw out the trial? We're gonna have a mistrial? What
is this? He says. The juror then gets down on
his knees and begs forgiveness for what he's done. So
the judge says, I told him to get up off
his knees and just tell me what happened. He said,
he wrote a letter. The juror wrote a letter. It

just says, well, okay, he says, and I sent it
to the prosecutor. And just as you send a letter
to the prosecutor, he said, yeah, it was an anonymous letter,
but I sent a letter to the prosecutor. All the
defense attorneys turned to Art Leach, They want to know
about this letter. We all look at the prosecutor and

say what about this letter? And the prosecutor goes, oh,
I got something. But you know, I just glanced at
it and I didn't know it was from a juror.
I just thought it was from the public. Everyone agrees
that they have to get rid of this juror. But
Craig Gillen says, hold on here a minute. We like

to see the letter. And as much as I'd like
to take credit for that, it was Craig. And the
prosecutor goes, well, you know it's not here, it's at home.
And now we're insisting we want to see the letter.
And the judge, of course, now he's curious. He wants

to see it too, so he says, okay, we'll recess court.
Mister Leach, you make arrangements to get the letter, get
the letter brought back down here, and circulate the copy
of the letter under sealed to everybody in the case,
all the lawyers, so we can see it. And the
letter basically says, dear mister Leach, we thought the government

was supposed to be the good guys. You're getting destroyed.
All of the jurors think the government's case is not
going well, and saydal is attacking you every single night
in the media. You gotta do something. You got to
stop him from attacking you. A few days later, the

jury was upset that another jury wasn't paying enough attention.
The court dismissed her too. With all these jurors getting
kicked off, lead defendant Steve Kaplan was concerned. Steve comes
to me, Steve Kaplan, and says, what's this mean? And
I said, this means things are going really, really well.

Keep in mind, Rankin reported that this juror had been
on Leech's side. She was pro prosecution. So now we're
of the opinion that everyone on that jury is inclined
to go for us. Now that's trials not over and
things can change, saydal Soon had as suspicions confirmed that
the jury was on their side. And this wasn't even

inside the courtroom. It was during a lunch break. Now,
I don't eat lunch during trials, never all I do.
I get locked in the courtroom and I continue to prepare.
I don't eat anything, if anything. I used to have
coke and Eminem's so I would be hyped up for
like the next three or four hours, which works well.

But Steve and Larry went out. That would be Larry Glade,
the Gold Club's accountant who was also on trial. And
Steve comes back and he says, I gotta talk to you.
I gotta talk to you, and I said, okay. He goes,
it's really really important. I said okay, okay. So we
go out in one of the anti rooms and Steve
says something just happened with the jurors. And I'm thinking

to myself, oh no, oh no, and he goes, yeah,
do you want to hear? And I said, yeah, you
gotta tell me. He goes, So we're at this restaurant
and we're standing in line and this group of jurors
is it's several people in front of us, and they
see us, and they motioned us to come up, and

Larry and I go up and they say, we know
you're working so hard. We want you to step in
front of us and so you can get your lunch
and get back and work. What does that mean? What
does that mean? He says, what does that mean? I said,
it means good. Just assume it means good. But remember
you really can't have any interaction with them. So they

loved him. They literally loved him. Here's Prosecutor Art Leech.
He saw it a different way. I was really concerned
with jury Tampa as well. There is a motion probably
midway through the trial, where I had gained information that

Steve Kaplan was interfacing with one of the jurors, and
I mean, that's enormously disturbing. So you know, it's just
things that you have to watch out for. It's kind
of a hallmark of organized crime that they always go
after the jurors. So you know, we were trying to
be alerted to that situation as well. To be perfectly honest,

we think the trial was going remarkably well on the
next episode of Racket, and then we had the FBI
parked on the other side of the cul de Sac
every time we're coming in and out there at the
back of their truck taking pictures of us. My cross

was designed to get him to a point where the
only logical conclusion was that he was a pimp. This
man can't keep his mouth shut. You can't get him
to answer a question that she moved her mouth and
looked at me and said fuck you. She was so

pissed when the prosecutor asked, did you have sex with
yet that little grand and he just said both of them.
You know, I got a call that the King of
Sweden was gonna sue me for slander or something, which
was kind of funny. I'm Christina Lee. This is Racket
Inside the Gold Club, Oh Hi hasband Acking Racket Racket,

Oh My Life by My Life Hasbanding, Ohhi Life. 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 Sonam Bashi.
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.
M hm oh booh, booh booh. School of Humans
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