Happy Scribe
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This is Bethenny Frankel, and I'm here to tell you about my new podcast, just be on just before I will talk to some of the most incredible self-made business people in the world, such as Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuk, and to entertainment powerhouses like Andy Cohen and Paris Hilton. This is a show about how to be successful. I rant about Cardi B's music, crazy stories about my wildest walk of shame ever, and a lot more. Listen to just be on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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I'm Christine Ali. This is Rocket Inside the Gold Club, episode three, Dirty Money. When I was researching this podcast, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about the Mafia's influence on pop culture, right. So I started by watching Goodfellas and then I moved on to The Sopranos. You officially pulled up the HBO now up, and we got the cursor set on Season one, episode one, the pilot of The Sopranos.

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All right, here we go. Honestly, Jersey kind of looks like Gettysburg, P.A.. Oh, but then they pull into this Cardassian type house. OK, got it. This is definitely different from all my life, I always wanted to be a gangster, so my my whole quip about Goodfellas is that this is what happens when men can't talk through their feelings, like especially the Joe Pesci character. You give like a live wire gun and look what happens.

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Right. But in this very scenario is the complete opposite. I don't even think about how ironic that was.

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But the fact that, like, we're literally starting with Tony Soprano going to therapy is hilarious to me.

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How much time is going to pass until I see somebody off? Oh, oh, OK. No, come back, let's talk about the dogs. Let's talk about the dogs come back.

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I watched this first episode with my husband and we had a lot of thoughts after the episode about Mafia archetypes, so I guess perhaps if people understood the Mafia archetype like clears day, I could see why people would be really drawn and intrigued by these very personas that we've come to know being sort of taken apart and sort of like interrogated in a way.

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The Sopranos was funny in that way because it was very explicitly supposed to be like, you know, deconstructing the American mobster. Right. But despite despite it, they still ended up being kind of like those good Goodfellas, you know, like the cool guys. But Google got it all figured out yet because I'm nervous tic like, you don't know how else you're supposed to act. Yeah. People still end up seeing them as, like aspirational figures. In the second episode of Season one of The Sopranos, a mobster informant says this You're always going to have organized crime always as long as a human being has certain appetites for gambling, pornography or whatever, someone is always going to surface to serve those needs.

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Always.

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The first episode of The Sopranos aired on January 12th, 1999. The FBI raid on the Gold Club was on March 19, 1999.

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By the time of the trial in 2001, The Sopranos was arguably one of the most popular shows on TV. So for millions of Americans who followed the trial, the Italian mafia was on the mind.

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Atlanta's Gold Club was an end of 20th century bacchanal, one big champagne room for the rich and famous sexual activity happened in the privacy of the gold rooms upstairs, and the club swindled its patrons in a variety of ways, dumping champagne into the carpet or a potted plant, charging tips twice, maxing out credit cards.

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But as much fanfare and gluttonous excess as there was, the prosecution was mostly interested in pinning down Gold Club's owner, Steve Kaplan, as an associate of the Italian mafia. The lead prosecutor on this case was Art Leach.

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I'm Art Leach.

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I am a former assistant United States attorney. I was with the Department of Justice for 19 years. I am the lead prosecutor on the Gold Club case, Peru, the work of the FBI.

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We we knew what was happening and we saw, you know, set out to prove what was happening with regard to the Gambino crime family, which is one of the five crime families out of the New York City metro area.

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Art Leach describes himself as a patriot. This goes back to when he was in the second grade, the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Leet says he remembers being deeply affected. In 1993, Leach became the assistant U.S. attorney in Atlanta. His job led him to prosecute a variety of organized crime syndicates in the south. At one point, he had to have a security detail of U.S. marshals because a Vietnamese gang he was prosecuting was plotting to invade his home.

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You know, I had threats. And, you know, you take precautions. I take precautions to this day just because there's a lot of people that I prosecuted over the 21 years that I was a prosecutor, both in state and federal court. I'd had 19 years with the Department of Justice. So, you know, some people out there, they're not happy with me.

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And Atlanta Leach became the head of the Organized Crime Strike Force. The Organized Crime Strike Force was part of a larger federal justice initiative. And of all the organized crime in the country, their primary target was the Italian mafia, also known as the mob.

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Let me just say how much I can talk about on this. I think I think I can say that the Organized Crime Strike Force is a nationwide organization, OK?

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And I think I can go so far to say that the plan in my time frame was a full court press on the organized crime families with a perspective of eradicating them as a criminal force in the United States at that point and for all time in the future. Leach believes without a doubt that CAPM was involved in the mob, specifically the Gambino crime family, and if Kaplin got away with it, the Mafia could take hold down south.

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I think I can venture to say without any opposition from anyone that this situation was unique in Atlanta, unique in Georgia, and needed to be addressed because it's like a festering cancer.

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I mean, if you're going to allow it to grow and prosper, you're going to have a problem going forward. We'll be right back. This is Bethenny Frankel, and I'm here to tell you about my new podcast, just be on just before I will talk to some of the most incredible self-made business people in the world, such as Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuk, and to entertainment powerhouses like Andy Cohen and Paris Hilton. This is a show about how to be successful.

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I rant about Cardi B's music, crazy stories about my wildest walk of shame ever, and a lot more. Listen to just be on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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The sordid history of the Gold Club is inextricably tied up with the history of the mob. The first major Italian mafia incident in the United States was in New Orleans in 1890. A police officer was murdered execution style.

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But as we know from The Sopranos and all the mob movies, the mob primarily operates out of New York.

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Tony Soprano commutes from his home in New Jersey. The mob is also in south Florida and other big cities up north like Philadelphia and Boston. The Italian mafia in the United States is also known as La Cosa Nostra, which translates to this thing of bars. And the Mafia is divided into five main families. They're named after significant leaders.

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They had at one point or another, Bonnano, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese. And in New York, their primary goal is extorting money from businesses, nightclubs, strip clubs, you know, seedier enterprises, they order business owners to give them protection fees to protect these businesses from other crime organizations. As prosecutor on the Gold Club case, Leach knew he had to spell out exactly what the Mafia was capable of. So he brought in FBI agent Jack Stubing, who was following one of the five families, an actor is reading Stebbings testimony as an expert witness.

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The purpose of the Cosa Nostra family is simply to generate income and maintain the power to keep generating that income. And these individuals are key in carrying out those day to day duties. Each crime family is organized as a pyramid. The boss is at the top. The boss of the family's word is supposed to be absolute. He's assisted by an individual who's known as the underboss, who, for lack of a better word, might be thought of as the vice president.

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Then there is the consiglieri. What it means is, counselor, the level below them is the captains in Italian. They're also known as Coppo. Under them are the people who are said to be in their crews or regime. And these people are referred to as soldiers. To be an official member of the mob, an associate must be of Italian origin on their father's side and be recommended and vetted by another member of the family. Then they undergo an initiation ceremony.

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Here's how the ceremony is described in Jack Tubings testimony. It's very dramatic.

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There will be a gun and a knife laying on a table, traditional ceremony. They would take that knife and prick the individuals trigger finger. Then they would squeeze a drop of blood onto what's called a holy card. It's a small, maybe a four inch tall card with a picture of a Roman Catholic saint on it. Then the card placed in the individual's cupped hands and it's lit a fire and the individual is given an oath to recite. But in essence, he is swearing his undying loyalty to La Cosa Nostra that he will not discuss La Cosa Nostra, his affairs outside of the family, and that if he should ever betray his oath, may he burn like the image or like the paper that's burning in his hand.

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They emerged from the ceremony, a fully initiated made member. Now, according to these rules, Steve Kaplan could not have been an official made member because he is Jewish, but the FBI had an eye on him for a while because of his father, George.

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The government alleges that George was an earner generating family income for the Bambino's.

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And when Steve Kaplan entered the family business, he continued his father's legacy as a mob associate, Steve Kaplan was what we know as an associate of the crime family generally made members of the crime family have to be of Italian lineage. And Kaplan was not. But associates are just as important within the family as made members. And that goes from soldiers, which are the bottom admitted members all the way up to the boss of the family. Kaplan was one of their biggest earners and earners or people who are supplying cash to the family.

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And the cash is what provides them the ability to carry on day to day, month to month, year to year. It is what lines the pockets of everybody up the chain of command. So an associate would be basically partnered with the soldier who would be associated with a captain who runs a crew within the organized crime organization. And ultimately, the captain is also paying up to the boss, the underboss and the concierge. If that is what the organization is at the time.

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But to prosecute Kaplan, Leach couldn't just follow the chain of command. A case involving the Mafia needs to show a pattern of illegal behavior.

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The FBI didn't know that La Cosa Nostra existed until 1957, and then in 1963, Joseph Awlaki became the first mob member to violate Niarchos industry's code of silence, called omerta.

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Thanks to Malachy's testimony, the FBI would see just how far the mob would go to make money illegally, what's known as racketeering.

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This led to the passing of the Racketeering Influenced and Corruptions Act, or RICO, RICO was passed in the 1970s as a means of dealing with organized crime. It allows the government to go after leaders and members of a criminal enterprise, even if the government can't prove that the individual was an active part of each specific criminal act.

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It's complicated and it has been used to prosecute a variety of cases across the country.

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So here's Art Leach explaining.

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It is a statute that the Department of Justice passed way back when Bobby Kennedy was the attorney general and it was aimed at the Mafia and has been used for that purpose over time.

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It is also used for complex gang cases where you have a variety of crimes spread over a wide area.

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So one of the many cases that I did when I was chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force involved the gang that worked the entire United States, and they would do home invasions, murders, murder for hire, kidnapping, all sorts of thefts, extortion.

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And so what Rico allows you to do is if there is a murder in the state of New Jersey, you can charge that murder under New Jersey law in a case in Georgia.

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So the whole idea is to bring all of the criminal activity together in a single indictment, regardless of where it occurred in the United States.

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Rico is what art used in the Gold Club case, it was perfect, everything could fall under RICO, prostitution, money laundering, fraud. Dozens of defendants could be charged with dozens of different crimes occurring in different states, all in one giant case starring the FBI and the Gold Club. The government envisions seizing millions and shutting down the Gold Club for good.

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There's no denying that Kathleen was close with Gambino members, John Gotti Jr. was the boss of the Gambino house at the time. Kaplan was close enough to call him by his nickname, Junior. In 1996, Kaplan hosted Junior for a weekend in Atlanta at the Gold Club. But what Art Leach alleges in the indictment is that Kaplan was more than a friend.

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Let's take a look at the indictment, they're going to be a lot of names and it's going to sound like the cast of a Scorsese film.

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It's nineteen eighty eight at a nightclub in New York called Bedrock.

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A guy named Shorty Moscoso is in a rage because he was just fired from the club.

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He goes downstairs to the bathroom, and when a bedrocks owners, David Fisher follows him, when Shorty's on the toilet, Fisher shoots him in the head, Shorty dies.

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Now, one of the other owners of the club is none other than Steve Kaplan. And apparently Shorty is a soldier with the Gambino crime family.

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There's a problem. An employee named Doug each Chisholm witnessed the murder crime.

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Families like to keep things within the family. They don't want the police in their affairs.

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So Kaplan takes Duggie to meet with the Bambino's to see what they should do about the murder of John Gotti Jr., instructs Kaplan to hide Duggie from law enforcement investigating the murder.

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Kaplan flies him down to Boca Raton, where he owns a home and operates a nightclub. He lets Doug hide out in his home. In retaliation, Dino Buscaino, a Gambino associate, wants to murder Fisher and he wants to do it at Bedrock. Kaplan asked them not to, assuring Buscaino that he will provide him with Fisher's address, Kaplan's Gambino involvement continued in Florida, which besides New York, is another mob hotspot.

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In 1994, a Bonnano family associate operated a hot dog stand out of Kaplan's Florida nightclub called Club Boca Koblin fears this associate is trying to muscle him out of his own business.

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He asked the Gambino is for help. The associate is successfully removed and the threat against Kaplan is resolved.

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Kaplan participated in numerous loan sharking schemes in Florida, where he lend people money at high interest rates and get Gambino associates to beat people up.

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If they didn't get their interest payments in on time, he'd fly Gambino members on reduced fare tickets on Delta, and he'd have meetings with Gambino members in New York. And then there's the score situation, according to the indictment, Kaplan and Gotti Jr. were plotting to extort money from a strip club in New York called Scores.

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You might know scores from Hustler's, the two thousand nineteen film starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu based on a true story, Hustler's is about a group of strippers trying to financially survive the economic collapse of 2008. To do so, they drugged men, brought them back to scores and maxed out the credit cards. Before the controversy in 1995, John Gotti Jr. was staging a takeover and he'd bring Kaplin for several Khosi sit downs with scores owners.

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It was. It was owned by two individuals. The Gambino crime family made a decision to try to basically take that over. And what had happened is when you're a club in New York City, you are going to be associated with one of the crime families. And from the view of the crime family, you are protected. By that family, which means that no other family can come in if you have some sort of problem, they will address it.

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But the ever present threat is of physical violence for failure to pay your tribute to the family that is protecting you. Well, the two owners of this gorgeous nightclub had been paying that tribute to the Gambino crime family for a period of time. And it was such a moneymaker that they decided to take it over and the way they were going to take it over was through.

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Steve Kaplan, the Campinas were apparently so impressed with the Gold Club and how Kaplan was motivating employees with speeches and cash they sought as counsel for scores.

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Years later, when three Gambino members pleaded guilty to the racketeering scheme involving scores, Kaplan wasn't among them.

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But the indictment alleged that he played a pivotal role in extorting scores regardless.

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All right. So you're one step away from the actual administration of the family. So, I mean, in terms of kind of measuring how important Steve Kaplan was viewed within the Gambino crime family, the fact that he has got that sort of access tells you that he's incredibly trusted. Which is why he ends up in the whole score situation. Because as somebody who has run a successful club, if they're going to take it over, they've got to have somebody that can run it and they're soldiers, they're captains, they can't do it.

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They don't have the acumen. They don't have the knowledge.

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They don't know what needs to be done on a day to day basis to run a business like that.

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So, you know, I just think that it was it was a mutual relationship. It was highly beneficial to the Gambino. And he enjoyed it. He just liked it. You know, that's that's the way that I would characterize it. FBI started surveilling Kaplan in 1996, a year later, the bureau had 12 boxes of surveillance tapes.

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We had sources, we had agents, you know, we had surveillance.

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You know, we had all the normal things that you see in any criminal investigation.

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We had all those things happening near one of the things that the FBI is really sensitive about a source and methods. So I really can't talk very much about what it is we were doing or what the objective was. You know, some things work, some things fail, but that's the nature of conducting an investigation. Art Leach is vague about what exactly the FBI was tasked with doing, but he makes it clear that the FBI had people surveilling the Gold Club from the outside in.

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Among the Gold Club employees like Katherine, the cocktail waitress, there was definitely a sense that something sketchy was happening at the club.

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I didn't know there were mafia at first. I didn't know. But it's definitely like a feeling like I knew in that office with Steve Kaplan that I was kind of like with a shark. I just because I'm a pretty intuitive person, you know, I was like, oh, this is like no fucking joke.

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But the entertainer Jaclyn Bush, who was close with Kaplan, said all of Leach's accusations about the mob ties were bullshit.

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No. And see, that's the thing that that made me kind of. Laugh at first, but then like later on during the trial, I realized I had met John Gotti Jr. and didn't even know it. They had a video of me shaking his hand out from the Gold Club. They didn't introduce him as John Gotti Jr. They just said, this is John. He's here visiting from New York. He wants to see the Gold Club and he wants the best of the best.

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And so I had to round up 10 of my girls for him and his friends that night because he wanted to experience the Gold Club and because he was on in our building all of a sudden. Now, my Jewish boss, my Jewish boss is in the Italian mob.

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Now, come on. Are you kidding me? It's hilarious. They're from New York.

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All of those people, the rich people, their kids all go to school together. So his kids went to school with John, got his kids. So what? That doesn't make him in business with this man? Are you kidding me? And I've been to New York with Steve so many times, and I was never around anybody that was a gangster.

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The Gold Club case was going to be his last as assistant U.S. attorney, he was pulling out all the stops to take Kaplan and the Gold Club down. And he decided to take advantage of the country's witness security program. We had several witness security witnesses, in other words, former mafia people who decided to cooperate with the Department of Justice and are now in a program that we call WITSEC Witness Security, and they go to different prisons. When they're transported, they're transported in a very different way.

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They're just not on commercial flights and so forth. You know, in order to tell the story, you have got to put those people on the stand so that they can say from the inside, this is what we were doing and why we're doing.

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Leitchfield found several mobsters who said they would give testimony about Steve Kaplan and the Gold Club. In exchange, they would get their sentences reduced. The guys he got were torturers and murderers who had done some pretty gruesome stuff. We'll get into all that in a later episode. But for now, one guy like to do is torturing at a bathtub. It makes cleanup easier. Leach thought presenting these people would help the jury understand how vital it was to bring down Kaplan and Gold Club because he feared that people might get caught up in a romantic view of the Mafia, in part because of the hit show The Sopranos for somebody who was an organized crime prosecutor in that time frame.

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I thought The Sopranos did a pretty good job of showing the ugly side of what happens within the Mafia as well. But they did it all under circumstances that kind of made the role of the boss and the captains and the soldiers kind of a romantic sort of thing.

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So this deconstruction of the archetype that I mentioned at the top of the episode was rubbing off on the public. Our idea of a made member wasn't Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. It was Tony Soprano at his first therapy appointment. Leach explains what mafia members were like in his experience. You know, by and large, they're sociopaths. By that I mean that, you know, they have been engaged in criminal conduct for the better part of their lives and it doesn't bother them at all.

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To prove that Steve Kaplan was an earner, the FBI and Leach needed to find evidence that the Gold Club profits were going from the hands of Steve Kaplan into the hands of a mobster. And that alleged mobster is Michael de Leonardo.

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People call him Mikey Scars.

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According to prosecution, the Leonardo was Kaplan's main point of contact with the Gambino. He was a capo or captain, and Kaplan gave him money and the form of protection fees.

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I always viewed Michael de Leonardos kind of being the leader of the band and someone who was making strategic decisions the way that the club operated, the way that it attracted people, the prices that it charge. I mean, there was a good bit of money that was never accounted for in terms of the United States government, as you might imagine. And that money in turn was going to pay the Gambino crime family. There was also a variety of illegal activity that was going on, all of which went kind of into the pool of earnings.

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And then Steve Kaplan would pay up through his captain was which was Michael Dehlin auto. And then dealing in auto would would pay up ultimately to the hierarch in Art Leach's opinion. The stakes were extremely high. L.A. was fertile ground. So at the Gambino took hold at the Gold Club, they could take over other clubs and businesses in the city.

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As Leet said, they were a festering cancer.

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It was, you know, an objective of organized crime at the time to spread their influence. And of course, it's an objective of the organized crime program at the Department of Justice during my time to stop them.

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But the problem was with their 12 boxes of tapes, all the government had was one person saying that on one occasion, Kaplan gave Leonardo a brown paper bag of cash.

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Former owner John Kirkendall told the government something similar that cap and paid their lawyer fees in cash and brown paper bags. Employees also said they got paid in cash. There was a lot of cash floating around Kaplan. Like the millions in his basement, the FBI conducted a search of Kaplan's residence. But when they got that, Capone had gone into part, apparently in some way or another, somebody tipped him off. The FBI was in route, searches out.

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Well, they went down in his basement. They found about two million dollars of wet money, what we call the modin money that Kaplan discarded and didn't even want it. The government estimate he took a duffel bag out of that basement a little over five million dollars in cash and left two million dollars, which he didn't want.

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On the next episode of Racket, you guys need to call me more often, I don't get any fucking phone calls. And then as soon as we get on this, I feel like eight phone calls. I figured that this was going to lead into the biggest case that I ever handled, and I was thrilled.

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And they're just buying more and more booze and there's more and more girls coming up. I guess you could say they were being taken advantage of, but they were willingly spending their money.

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You've got a dirty cop that you're throwing into the salad. You what you're trying to do is give us some local flavor so people just have a bad taste in the mouth.

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Steve comes to me in the office. He says, hey, I don't want these New York lawyers anymore. How much more money do you want to just run the whole show?

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And I said, finally. So they brought it south thinking that they can make a morality prosecution, you know, at some point people got to realize a civil war is over.

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I'm Christine. Ali, this is Rocket Inside the Gold Club.

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Could be wreckage. Oh, my life. They ayn a Rand Paul Ryan. Bracket inside the Gold Club is a production of School of Humans and I Heart Radio Racket's written and narrated by me, Christina Lee, and produced by Gaby Watts. Caroline Slaughter is our supervising producer. Special thanks to Taylor Church and Sunim. Bashe Music is by Claire Campbell and Sound Design and mixes by tune welders.

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Executive producers are Brandon Barr, Elsie Crowley and Brian Levin, along with Scott Grubman and Lord Zimmerman.

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Oh. Oh. School of Humans. This is Bethenny Frankel, and I'm here to tell you about my new podcast, just be on just before I will talk to some of the most incredible self-made business people in the world, such as Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuk, and to entertainment powerhouses like Andy Cohen and Paris Hilton. This is a show about how to be successful. I rant about Cardi B's music, crazy stories about my wildest walk of shame ever, and a lot more.

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Listen to just be on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.