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September 16, 2020 31 mins

Once you get past charges of prostitution, credit card fraud, and mob ties, all that’s left is… a laundry list of even more scandalous charges against the Gold Club. Yikes! The Gold Club’s owner Steve Kaplan hires a powerhouse team of prominent, though eccentric, criminal defense lawyers to defend him, his employees, and his infamous club.

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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.
I'm Christina Lee. This is episode four The Magnificent Seven.
The Gold Club employees knew they were being watched. Across
the street from the club was a bank. Kaplan's right

(00:29):
hand man, Ziggy, noticed one of the bank's cameras was
turned suspiciously toward the club. He asked owner Steve Kaplan
what should they do about it, but Kaplan wasn't worried.
Ziggy suggested he planted some trees out front to obscure
the view, just in case Jack and Bush or Diva

(00:50):
swore someone was following her. But it was the raid
in March nineteen ninety nine when they knew for sure
who had eyes on them, and no, it wasn't the mob.
It was a more threatening force to Kaplin the FBI.
After the raid, Kaplan knew he had to protect himself
and his employees, so we sought out the most prominent

(01:11):
criminal defense team he could find. You guys need to
call me more offer than I don't get any fucking
phone calls. And then as soon as we get on this,
I feel had like eight phone calls and that's one
of them. Sabby people selling me insurance. But okay, so
we're in the middle of a pandemic and we started
interviewing people for this podcast right when everything started shutting down,

(01:34):
which meant that we couldn't interview anyone in person, even
though we all live in Atlanta. So there was this
learning curve with some of Atlanta's most coveted and accomplished
lawyers on how to record their side of the interview
on their iPhones. I'm hitting it. This is new recording three.
By the way, Okay, all right, can go back. Oh,

(01:58):
don't go back. Don't go back. I can't repeat it.
I can't do it. It's already done. That was our
users talking with attorney Bruce Harvey, who ends up representing Jacqueline.
What was your initial impression of Jacqueline? Can you tell
us a little bit about her? Now, Jackie was their
premier dancer, their premier seller, and she was very close

(02:24):
to Steve Kaplan. So my first impression was, well, she
must be something, she must be something. This is a
very famous national club. People come from all over the
country to see the club and to see Jackie Bush.
Can you tell us about the first time that you
met Jacquelin? No, because I don't remember, okay, I'm assuming

(02:49):
it was at the Gold Club. Of course I had
never been in there before, because I would never go
into an establishment like that. But due to my professional responsibilities,
of course I wanted to go. Are you saying now
with a hint of sarcasm? I hope you could hear

(03:10):
that hint of sarcasm in my voice. Jacklin didn't like
the first attorney her boss recommended because, quote, he talked
to me like I was guilty already, answer Bruce Harvey.
Jacqueline recognized Harvey not just from his signature Ponytail, but
she knew of him from other major trials he had

(03:31):
worked on, and Harvey was just one of the seven
defense attorneys. One journalist referenced a classic Western when she
dubbed them the Magnificent seven. Okay, cool, so let's concert it.
So will you please tell me your name and who

(03:51):
you're presented in the Gold Club trial? My name is
Steve Sadou and I represented Steve Kaplan. Attorney Steve Sada
was at the helm of the defense team. Sada was
already a reputable criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, but Sado
wasn't Kaplan's first choice. For representation. The night the FBI

(04:11):
raided the Gold Club, Sado headed straight over. I kept
my eye on the FBI and the irs as they
did the search. I got to know a little bit
about the club's operations, and I figured that this was
going to meet into the biggest case that I ever handled,
and I was thrilled. And then I waited for Steve

(04:31):
Kaplan to let me know that I was going to
lead the charge in defending his club in himself. Then
came some bad news. Kaplan already had his choice of attorneys,
big wigs from his native New York to be told thereafter.
I could kind of stick around as the local representative,
but I really wasn't going to be a participant. Obviously,

(04:52):
I was somewhat devastated, but I knew I was still
involved in the case. But Kaplan shoot up or chewed
out those big wigs, and it'd be on to the
next one. This happened three times and Sada was kept
on the sideline. So for the next several months, I
was relegated to the what's the best way to say it,
the total lackey. You know, you need to go picked

(05:15):
up dinner. If he were here, I want to get dinner.
I was at the role that I would never want
to play, but I didn't want to lose contact with
the case. That changed when Caplan saw stayed out working
the Ray Lewis murder trial. On January thirty first, two thousand,

(05:37):
Joseph Sweeting, Reginald Oakley, and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis
were charged with two stabbing murders. The morning after Atlanta
hosted Super Bowl thirty four, Lewis, Sweeting, and Oakley were
at the Cobalt Lounge, another nightlife fixture, and as they
were leaving the club, they were confronted by a group
of men. Words were exchanged, there was a fight, and

(06:00):
two people died, but Lewis and his entourage fled the
scene in their limo. Sadow represented Lewis's friend, Joseph Sweeting.
This was a big celebrity trial, and Kaplan and some
of the other Gold Club employees went to see how
Sada would handle it. Let's just say that I was

(06:22):
having one of my best performances, at least in the courtroom.
The jury acquitted Sadow's client after only forty five minutes
of deliberation. Steve Capel was impressed, so they finally had
a meeting. Steve comes to me in the office. He says, Hey,

(06:43):
I don't want these New York lawyers anymore. How much
more money do you want to just run the whole show?
And I said Finally, the real work was about to begin.
Sayda reunited with Bruce Harvey, who represented Oakley and would
now take on Jacqueline Don Samuel, who co represented Lewis,
would be assigned to Caplan's accountant, Larry Glad. The rest

(07:06):
of the team were attorneys Craig Gillen, Dwight Thomas, Nick Latito,
and another Bruce Bruce Morris. But first the ray Lewis
jury reached a verdict not guilty on all counts. To
celebrate their victory and the ray Lewis Trial, Say It
Allen Harvey took their clients on a limo ride to

(07:28):
the Gold Club. We'll be right back when the indictment
came down in November nineteen ninety nine. The first task
at hand was keeping the Gold Club open since Atlanta

(07:52):
Mayor's Bill Campbell wanted to take away its liquor license.
That fell into the hands of Alan Begner. The Gold
club's lawyer, who told us about how the musical Hair
led to the rise of Atlanta's asshole nick at strip clubs.
When the indictment came down, Bill Campbell was mayor and
he used for the first time the emergency powers in

(08:17):
the City of Atlanta's alcohol code to revoke their license
without a hearing, without due process, without appeal. Begner suggests
that this was a political move on Campbell's part because
Campbell was about to be federally indated as well for rocketeering,
wire fraud, and bribery, including from strip clubs. He'd eventually

(08:40):
spent a year in prison for tax evasion. He knew
he was going to be indicted and that another adult
club owner would testify that he gave bribes to Mayor
Campbell and wanted to show he was tough on new
dance clubs. Begner's move worked, which meant that from nineteen

(09:00):
ninety nine to two thousand and one it was business
as usual Optical Club. So Begner isn't one of the
Magnificent Seven. He was the Gold Club's regular civil suit lawyer,
handling those run of the mill credit card fraud cases
from the nineties. Begner is also a strip club regular.

(09:23):
In his office, he proudly displays a wooden bat that
someone used to attack a security guard at Tattletale, his
favorite strip club in Atlanta. Tattletale is a decisively more
casual place than the Gold Club, though Begner has also
been to the Gold Club plenty of times for work

(09:43):
and pleasure. Meanwhile, most of the Magnificent Seven claimed that
they'd only been to the Gold Club strictly on business.
When we won the Ray Lewis trial, my client had
been incose rated since the day's arrest in January two
thousand and he's found not guilty. We celebrate at the

(10:06):
Gold Club. That was literally the first time I had
ever gone to the Gold Club other than as potential
counsel for the Gold Club. Like the Gold Club's defense team,
prosecutor Art Leech swears that he's never stepped inside the
Gold Club, not even during his own investigation thing. I
just said, never going to darken that door ever. And

(10:31):
we had some intelligence that came back to us through
the FBI where they were actually searching the tapes to
see if I had ever been at the Gold Club,
but they were wasting their time because I had never
crossed that threshold. Ever, still, after the raid, Leech's investigation
overtook business as usual at the Gold Club. The staff

(10:53):
was being interviewed by FBI agents and getting subpoenat left
and right. So Kapitalan asked, say it out if he
could come buy the club to give some reassurance. Everyone
realizes at some point maybe this is going to be
the end of the club. The entertainers are concerned because
that's their livelihood. If the club shuts down, you know,

(11:14):
they're out of a job. And I don't know what
you've been told, but the entertainers, the dancers at the
club made serious money, really serious money. We're talking about
hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. So Steve comes
up to me one point and says, you know, if
you could come by the club every once in a while,

(11:35):
some of the girls have got club questions. Maybe you
can answer some of the questions. Make everybody feel good
that things are still moving along in the right direction.
Sadale started regularly going to the club, usually staying for
a half hour, and to show his propriety, he often
brought his wife with him. She had always been interested
to know what went on in there. She's heard stories.

(11:57):
So we would go into the club. We would never
go to the private room. We would sit up on
the second floor in the balcony that overlooks the stage,
and I would sit there with her and we would
wait to see if girls came over and they wanted
to ask questions, and they would come over. They would
ask a couple of questions, and they always felt, because

(12:17):
of who I was and the role I had, that
maybe I should have a lap dance. Naturally, these entertainers
wanted to show their appreciation. They would say, you know,
would you like a lap dance? And I would always
look at my wife and she'd give me that look
like that ain't happening. Capa was pretty involved in building

(12:48):
up his case. He was always coming up with ideas.
So while the government could subpoena people for grand jury,
Capa wondered if there was a way the defense could
collect their own testimony. Steve comes to me and he says,
you know, the government takes people. Can we tape people?

(13:09):
And I said yes actually, And Steve said, well, if
we can tape, what are your thoughts? And I said, well,
you know, who's gonna Who's gonna do this taping? Kaplan
realized that while he didn't have cameras and wire taps,
he did have the power of seduction on his side.
And he said the girls, And I said the girls,

(13:33):
He said, yeah, the entertainers, the dancers, the people that
I've been loyal to on are loyal to me. They
all come to me and say how can they help?
And this is what they could do. And it occurred
to me immediately upon him saying that the individuals being
recorded and having the conversation would be they're most open.

(13:56):
They wouldn't be guarded because they think they're impressing the
woman they're talking to. Men's ego would take whole of
the situation. Patrons were more than willing to sing Kaplan's
praises when being interviewed by the entertainers with a sexy
sluice in action. The defense ended up with more than

(14:16):
three hundred hours of recordings during the grand jury investigation.
As Leech continued to collect evidence, the indictment was revised
two more times. The first version was already one hundred
pages long, but the third and final version had thirty

(14:38):
more pages of charges. As we talked about on the
last episode. The overwhelming charge and the indictment was rico.
To be charged. Under RICO, at least two separate crimes
need to be proven. In legal terms, these crimes are
called a predicate acts. For example, the indictment accused Kaplan

(14:58):
abribing Delta Airlines employees with booze and entertainers in exchange
for discounted airfare to where he chose. During the grand
jury and Atlanta drug dealers said that he sold drugs
to Ziggie and some Gold Club managers. He said that
he had the bathroom valet selling his goods and collected

(15:18):
the earnings at the end of every night. He guessed
that sixty percent of whoever was inside the Gold Club
at any given time were on some kind of drugs,
mostly cocaine. The grand jury does permit hearsay, so take
all this with a grain of salt. But for the
Gold Club defense, the scope of the trial was becoming

(15:41):
so immense that many of those predicate acts became footnotes.
The story of Reginald Bernie also got overlooked, even though
he was one of the seven defendants going to trial.
Bernie was a retired Atlanta police officer who pivoted to
working as a security guard and club consultant. Since he

(16:03):
worked in permits while at the police department, he was
well versed in what strip clubs could and could not do. Sometimes,
at the Gold Club's weekly meetings Bertie was there, he
would tell staff that everyone, including bouncers, needed a permit
to work at the club. He'd tell entertainers to please
stop engaging in lewd behavior. In Atlanta. While you can

(16:26):
be asshole naked, you cannot be lewed like intentionally spreading
your cheeks. Just to give an example. The government alleged
that before Bernie retired, he accepted a five thousand dollar
bribe from Kaplan to get the Gold Club a Sunday
local license. He'd let Kaplan know if his office was

(16:46):
going to pay the Goal Club a surprise visit, and
like the rest of the defendants, Bernie was charged under RICO,
meaning he was somehow helping Kaplan funnel money to the mob.
The Gold Club frequently comped Bertie's drinks, as restaurants and
convenience stores often do with policeman and firefighters, but the

(17:08):
insictment points to this gesture almost as if it were
another bribe, if not some sign that Bernie was being
offered sex as well. Bernie's lawyer, Dwight Thomas figured that
the government threw him into the mix just to make
this whole case even sexier. You've got a dirty cop
that you're thrown into the slad. What you're trying to

(17:30):
do is give it some local flavors, so people just
have a bad taste in the mouth. So I don't
want this. You know, I'm going to convict simply because
the government says they got a dirty cop in this situation.
The police officer has that badge on the sworn to
uphold and protect the law, is involved in criminal activity

(17:51):
with the mob. That's even you know, that's even sexier
for the prosecutors to present to the people. Yet dirty cops,
along with bribery and drugs were the least of the concerns.
We'll be right back. Like most things in the world,

(18:21):
the Gold clubcase boils down to money, where it came from,
how it was used, and where it ended up. In
grand jury testimony, some staff and even former owner John
Kirkendall complained about the Gold Club's cash flow. According to Kirkendall,
once Kaplan took over the club, he stopped making daily

(18:43):
deposits at the bank and started paying staff and vendors
under the table. During a visit to Atlanta, Kirkendall stopped
by the Gold Club from Kaplan to literally hand him
a brown paper bag with about eight thousand dollars in bills.
Apparently this was his cut for the week at the club.

(19:04):
Kirkandall swears that Kapham once told him that he'd rather
pay people with cash to avoid being taxed. He also
said that Kaplan supplied the Gold Club with bootleg liquor.
Most states require getting alcohol from an authorized distributor, but
Kirgndaal claimed that Kaplan got his bottles delivered in some
unmarked van Kirkendall said, the stuff you read about and

(19:28):
see in movies was happening to me at the Gold Club.
I'm telling you it was right out of a fiction
movie or novel. Attorney Don Samuel, who was defending accountant
Larry Glyde, says that a cash problem at the Gold
Club wasn't possible. Where would all this cash come from

(19:50):
if the Gold Club's clients hell were platinum cardholders. Larry
Glade had nothing to do with cash and In fact,
I'm not aware that there was substantial cash at the
Gold Club at all. It was that was not that
kind of club. Was not the kind of club where
people came and, you know, bought drinks with twenty dollar bills.

(20:11):
This is the kind of club where people came in
and bought drinks with platinum Amex cards. You know, like
sometimes tips would be paid in cash from the club
if the entertainers wanted that, or you know, cocktail waitresses
wanted to be paid in cash, but there just wasn't
enough cash really to pay the employees like that. That

(20:32):
was just mythical. Speaking of platinum cards, Samuel pointed out
that only eighteen people were included in the indictment for
credit card fraud at the Goal Club, and since thousands
of people have visited the club on a yearly basis,
the charge of credit card frauds seemed overblown, more like

(20:52):
a mistake than a scheme. Also, prosecution described Kaplan's upselling
strategy remember what they called the formula, as part of
a larger scam. Samuel struggled to see which parts of
the formula were actually illegal. A lot of people got
very drunk there, A lot of people you know, one
or two in the morning, they're on their third bottle

(21:14):
of champagne. You know, they're signing everything, they're signing anything,
and they're just buying more and more booze, and there's
more and more girls coming up. You know. I guess
you could say they were being taken advantage of it,
but they were willingly spending their money. And I'm not
sure that that's a crime, just by you know, taking
advantage of incredibly wealthy people who were incredibly drunk and

(21:36):
spending a lot of money. You know. It's it's one thing,
you know, at you know, to take advantage of someone
who's spending their last buck, you know, gambling and clearly
doesn't have the money to go home and feed their
family that night. It's another thing, you know, to you know,
someone who's walking around with a platinum Amex card and
wining and dining his customers, to you know, encourage them

(21:59):
to keep eating, keep eating, keep drinking, keep drinking, by
another steak, by another dome perry on. It's nice. You know,
I see that as being morally different and certainly not
crossing the line of illegality. The government also accused Steve

(22:19):
Kaplan of arranging sex between Gold Club dancers and VIP clientele,
and according to prosecution, this was prosecution Prosecutor Art Leech
needed to prove that money changed hands with either the
entertainers or Kaplan himself for sex. Meanwhile, Sado asked whether
sex as defined by the State of Georgia actually happened.

(22:44):
Sado found a loophole in Leech's case. Keep in mind
that the year before the raid, the nation was trying
to figure out what exactly happened between President Bill Clinton
and Monica Lewinsky. Clinton said, I did not have sexual
relations with that woman. But the longer the impeachment trial

(23:05):
wore off on, the more the core legal experts and
the general public debated over whether oral sex actually counts
as sex. As we are preparing, I kept seeing over
and over that it was oral sex that people were
talking about, not sexual intercourse. And I hate to go

(23:29):
to Bill Clinton, but there is a difference. So I
went in to see what constituted prostitution under george law. Now,
the statute said it had to be sexual intercourse. If
you read the law in Georgia clear as day at
that point it said sexual intercourse. That means all the
times the indictment references blowjobs, hand jobs, or lesbian sex

(23:52):
shows as prostitution. That can't be because as defined by
the law, prostitution can only be intercourse. The law has
changed since then, and even at the time of the
Goal Club case that was confusing. Sado did find some
cases that had previously ruled oral sex's prostitution, but he

(24:15):
decided some willful ignorance might be better than emitting that
fact into evidence, because some things are just better held back.
The defense team had one last big problem what to
do with Michael de Leonardo, otherwise known as Mikey Scars,

(24:35):
alleged mobster. Michael was a very strong willed individual and
at that time was alleged to be a high ranking
member of an organized crime family and was not used
to receiving directions, and that it was important to make

(24:56):
sure that Michael was kind of kept under some control
because he was a bigger than life character and if
he was too big, it might give the wrong impression
in a courtroom about who was controlling who. Like how
Reginald Bernie was added to the indictment, Sadal thought that
organized crime was thrown in to make the case more exciting.

(25:20):
And that these charges weren't overreach by the government. The
government had overreached. They had created criminal activity when none existed.
They had, particularly when it came to organized crime, they
had put that into it because, oh my god, organized
crime has come to River City, which is the old song,
had come to Atlanta, and we had to get rid

(25:40):
of him. Suddenly, the prosecution was framing to Leonardo as
the top of the Gold Club's money chain, but the
defense team needed to prove that Kaplan was running the ship,
so no mafia involvement. Di Leonardo was a named a
defendant in the Gold Club trial until the third draft.
In the indictment, he was then accused of money laundering,

(26:02):
obstruction of justice, and extorting the New York strip club
Scores during the nineties. The third draft is also when
everything about Scores came to Late in the grand jury,
Art Leech talked to Scores two owners about Steve Kaplan.
They said that they had connected with Kaplan through Gambino associates.

(26:22):
At first, Kaplan was just offering them business advice, like
every time a cab dropped someone off at Scores, they
should tip them five bucks. That way, the cab driver
will recommend Scores to people looking for a good time,
but then their meetings escalated. Kaplan told them they should
build private VIP rooms, get the customers super drunk, and

(26:44):
get them to the rooms where they could do whatever
they wanted with the entertainers and get charged for it.
At the time of their meetings, the Scores owners were
wearing wires because they were working with the FBI, and
in a conversation captured between Kaplan and the Scores owners,
it became clear why Jacklin Bush was so taken aback

(27:06):
by how Kaplan talks. According to the transcript, Kaplan says,
any fucking guy wants, any bitch wants a fucking floor
man to sit down. I don't give a fuck, go
in there. Fuck. The defense refers to the Gold Club
trial again and again as a morality play or a

(27:29):
moral prosecution against this booming strip club below the Bible belt.
It was an empty wagon. It made a lot of noise.
This is day Thomas again, and he points out that
a lot of the case was now built around what
had happened in New York with Scores and all that,
but says it was a deliberate choice to bring the
case into the South because Southerners well aren't supposed to

(27:52):
like strip clubs. The government in Atlanta, actually the prosecuts,
and they could have brought this case of in New York,
but they didn't want to do that because they felt,
number one, New Yorkers are too liberal about things and
they would never buy that idea. So they brought it south,
thinking that they can make a moralative prosecution, that the
Southerners here would get caught up with the Christen hangups

(28:15):
and say, hey, you know this is dirty dancing. Now
you know this is loose news, this is a moral
you know. At some point in time, people got to
realize the civil wars old. In September two thousand, Kaplan

(28:37):
almost got re arrested. He'd been out on bail, but
police wanted to throw him in jail on allegations of
witness intimidation. This isn't the only time that prosecutions suspected
Kaplan a messing with their witnesses. Leech said. A former
Gold Club employee was later attacked. They beat her so

(28:58):
severely that basically all of her front teeth were knocked
out in an effort to intimidate her. And it worked.
I mean, we lost her for a long period of time,
to say, six months, where we could not find her,
could not communicate with her. We were concerned for her
physical safety. In other words, was she's still alive? And
when we finally found her, it was a really horrible situation.

(29:24):
Art Leech believes the attacker was hired by none other
than Steve Kaplan Next time on Racket, Zak was brought

(29:45):
down here to help manage the club and did so.
He had insight into all manner, every aspect. He was
a coward, no backbone at all. I can't stand the
thought of that man. There were several different instances where
things happened where he felt like he was an immediate

(30:08):
bodily harm her. I can say she was just scared.
She's terrified. It's it's very very difficult, if not impossible,
for people to resist the siren call of the government
when they are pressuring you to cooperate. Oh my life

(30:34):
has been racking, racking, racket, Oh my life, My life,

(30:56):
Oh my 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

(31:16):
church In Sonambashi music is by Claire Campbell and sound
design and mixes by Tone 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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