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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.
This is Racket Inside the Gold Club, episode five, The Sirens Call What were the Gold Club story B without? Basketball, just before Steve Kaplan took ownership of the Gold Club, the Chicago Bulls had their first three peat, winning three consecutive championships. Then Michael Jordan stunned the world when he announced his retirement. Basketball was rivaling football as the American sport. Basketball is also what brought two people together, Steve Kaplan and Thomas Donato, who, you know is Ziggy.
They first met in the mid 1980s at a New York nightclub owned by a mutual friend, and Ziggy was impressed with Kaplan's business, know how Capone was operating a big club himself called Heat Wave. So he was giving their mutual friends some advice. But what sealed the deal on Kaplan and CIG's friendship was when the conversation turned to basketball. They were both huge fans of the sport. A couple of days after they met, Kaplan invited Ciggie to his newsstand at Penn Station, and from there on, Kaplan gave Zygi copies of the thirty five basketball magazines he sold at the store.
Introduce me to his family a few years later, Kalpen was opening another newsstand and Penn Station and he asked Ziggy to supervise the construction. This was the first time Zigi worked with Kaplan, but then the gigs snowballed, Biggie helped out at Kaplan's nightclub bedrocks. He was even assistant manager of Kaplan Cigar Store, also in Penn Station called Pufnstuf. This is an actor reading Ziggy's testimony, Steve. He's a very if Steve likes you and he considers you his friend, he wants to bring you into his fault.
He's a very generous, very you know, what's mine is yours kind of guy. In the early 90s, Kaplan invited Zygi down to Florida, where he was operating two successful clubs, Club Heaven and Club Boca Kaplan offers Ziggy a job as general manager, but he declined. The time Ziggy was running a youth basketball program with about 700 kids in Brooklyn. Kaplan became a big financial supporter. He organized fundraisers. He co-sponsored trips to college campuses so that Ziggy's kids stood a better chance of being recruited.
Biggie would still held captive for time to time, he'd go down to Florida for a week or two. He even went with Kaplan to Atlanta when he was scouting properties to expand his nightclub empire. In Ziggy's relationship, however, wasn't always that great, it have disagreements and stay away from each other for months. We were friends and we were sometimes we would get into arguments or disagreements, and I may not have liked something that was going on and I would just say it's been fun for now.
Pack my clothes. And if I was living down here, I'd leave. If I was in New York, I would just leave. But they'd always be night when Kaplan made the effort. Well, it was always initiated by somebody around Steve. Someone would call one of his one of his employees, one of the associates will call me and, you know, say, you know, do you want to come back to work? Steve misses you.
You know, you miss him. It's basketball season, you know, it could be a number of things, and that's how we'd come back. When Kaplan got the keys to the Gold Club, Zygi became a fixture there when he was in Atlanta, he'd stay at Kaplan House. Their whole lives were going to and from the club working 12 to 15 hour shifts together. He hit the streets and handed out flyers to promote the club. He did anything Cabela needed that wasn't in someone else's job description.
He became what managers affectionately refer to as the Gold Club's official pointer outr, he'd point out when employees arrived late or not in their uniforms, he'd point out customers wearing flip flops or managers sitting down.
It even point out smaller things, like if a light bulb was out in the dressing room, but Kaplin never thought Ziggy's discerning, I would be used against him.
Well, Kaplan and Zigi were close friends, Zygi was despised by most of the Gold Club staff, remember, he's the one who chime in during staff meetings to call everyone bitches. For the employees, his presence was toxic. Adding to the stress of the Gold Club's competitive work environment. Entertainer Jacqueline Bush is one of the people who dislike Zigi, she also said that Zygi had an inferiority complex about Kaplin.
He's always been jealous of Steve because Steve is so successful and he's such a douche bag. Like, I can't stand the thought of that man. The things the way he used to talk to the women, the way he used to treat them, I would say to Steve all the time, Steve, keep that man out of this building. He insults your girls. He talks down to them. He's he's just rude. He's rude on so many levels because he feels like he's your boy that he can just do whatever he wants in this club.
And that's not how you operate. That's not how you keep your staff happy.
So he kicked them out of the club and made him go back to New York. Anything I wanted, I got. So Zigi was one hostile presence at the club, but some employees also didn't like Steve Kaplan's preferential treatment of Jacklin. Her attorney, Bruce Harvey, sums it up nicely.
I suspect that all the other dancers thought that she was a favorite of Steve's and was treated differently and was treated better and had more access and got more money. And, you know, it's like any hierarchy in a hierarchy, those at the bottom. Like a dog sled have the same view throughout the race, and I think it's a built in jealousy, animosity, thinking that that you're being kept down not because of your talent or anything else, but because someone else is a favorite.
Spats broke out from time to time between Jacklin and the other employees, there were power struggles between her and the managers because she was firing people without their permission. One time she found an entertainer named Shauna having sex in one of the gold rooms.
Jacqueline told her she had to go home. Shauna said, Who the fuck do you think you are? You're an entertainer like the rest of us.
You're not a manager. Shauna's talking about this double standard at the club. After all, Jacklin and the women under her wing could do whatever they wanted. The other entertainers couldn't get away with shit, not on Jaclyn's watch.
Like any workplace, there were plenty of trysts among the employees, like with Roger Koula, the manager who was a gym rat and rode motorcycles. Here's his attorney, Nick Lotito.
The women there liked him and he liked them.
It was kind of funny. There was a Gold Club calendar, I guess, of, you know, like this January and so on. And, you know, he probably had dated ten or eleven of the women on the calendar. Petito told us the story about an incident with the manager, Nawabi, and his girlfriend, who also worked at the club.
She became suspicious of him, thinking he was cheating on her with someone else at the club. You know, he was dating somebody who was sort of like, I don't think she was a dancer, but she was there a lot and I guess had access to the safe. And so there were condoms in there in the safe. And, you know, she was noticing that they were the stack of them was dwindling and she became suspicious of NEBE, I guess, you know, using them or something like that.
And I'm a bad punster. And one of my comments was at least they were having safe sex.
In her book, Jacklin talked about how she had sexual rendezvous with Gold Club customers and insinuated she and Dennis Rodman spent a lot of time together.
Jacqueline also dated some of her co-workers like Amanda, who she broke up with because she was doing too much ecstasy for Jaclyn's taste.
But beyond the humdrum of normal workplace gossip, some bigger betrayals were on the horizon. 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. 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.
In the indictment against the club came down in November nineteen ninety nine, Jacqueline felt like she was hit with a sledgehammer. He said this in one of our first phone calls with her. My mother found out on CNN. I got it. I never got a chance to call my mother. I got the call at 10:00 a.m.. Interest me down in the federal building in an hour, or indeed, it was insane and right there in my bedroom. I just didn't know when, but when it finally comes, it's so overwhelming.
Emotionally, it just it hits you. Like a sledgehammer, and you're just like, oh, I can't breathe. These people have me in their grips right now, like my life is no longer mine right now, it belongs to the federal government. It's a frightening place to be. You said you did and you get it, and that's the bottom line, to prove yourself and then saying, get the hell out of there. And that Rico comes down.
So far, it's not about and there is no I'm innocent until proven guilty anymore. You have to prove that you a. To prove it, and to me, that's a fact when that's when you. Like, if you're telling me I'm innocent until proven guilty, that's your burden of proof, you probably guilty, not me, prove myself innocent. Tell me what I did that once you put all these charges on. Oh, you don't have that.
I don't think so. From the beginning, the defendants were going through hell backlands, life was turning upside down. Then when it came down, it came down and it was frightening. I went to the bank. I know they froze all my assets. That's right, the one point five million now. Everything. I lived a very lavish lifestyle that I wore my name. Do have people ask me, how do you deal with losing that kind of money?
Oh, I. Just because there's nothing you can do about it, you can't get that. Don't have it anymore after reinvention, like. One thing that people say about Kaplin, whether on the government side or the defense, is that he's loyal, he always looks offers people.
But some of those people didn't look out for him. Nearly two thousand, Zygi enters a guilty plea and becomes a star witness for the prosecution against Kaplan. Here's the prosecutor, Art Leach Zigi was one of Steve Kaplan's best friends, and Zigi is a Brooklyn guy, New York guy and. So he was brought down here to help manage the club, and so he had insight into all. Every aspect of the case and. Zigi hired an attorney who's fairly famous out of New York, Ed McMahon, and on Ed's first trip to Atlanta, he said to me that Ziggy wants to cooperate.
He doesn't want to fight. He wants to sit down and have a proffer with you. So it came into town. We sat down, we accepted the proffer, and Ziggy was one of our cooperative throughout the trial. So what you're looking for when you have a cooperative like that is you want the inside out view of what's happening within the Gold Club organization. And that's what Ziggy provided to us.
Ziggy began handing information over to the government. He tells them the story about Larry Johnson coming to the club and Kaplan saying he should give these guys whatever they want. He tells them about how Kaplan's favorite basketball player, John Starks, came to the club when Kaplan was in Florida. How Kaplan immediately hopped on a flight to Atlanta, sent three entertainers to Stark's hotel room and had two of them perform oral sex on each other.
The third had intercourse with Starks. Ziggy says that when he asked whether Kaplan paid the entertainers, Kaplan said they were taking care of. Zygi tells the government that Kaplan was hands on at the Gold Club and knew about the sexual activity. Ziggy outlines the formula how Kaplan would manipulate customers to get more money out of them. He also tells them about a loan sharking agreement Kaplan had with a guy named Johnny D and tells him about meetings they had with no gangsters in New York and Kaplan's involvement with Shorty Moscow's death.
He tells them about one day in ninety five when he went with Kaplan to the airport, they had two cars because they were picking up a big party, which included Capone's brother and an old friend, John Gotti Jr.. Ziggy knew who he was from the newspaper. By reputation, of course, but also with Capone previously told him. And this is kind of funny, everyone seems to have a different nickname for John Gotti Jr., Kaplan called him Junior, but then Ziggy starts calling him Griffy after baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr. had also followed his father into his respective profession after Kaplin and Ziggy picked everyone up from the airport. They all go out to a sports bar in town. Ziggy starts talking with Griffey, and eventually the conversation turns to his favorite thing.
Basketball. Got into a little bit of a heated exchange on sports. He was saying football players are better athletes than basketball players. And I was saying, no, they're not. Ziggy wasn't the only employee at the Gold Club who started working with the government. A few of them told the prosecution that they were getting threats of violence from none other than Steve Kaplan. Remember in 2000, Kaplan almost got rearrested because of someone accusing him of threatening their life.
And then Artley told us about this witness after the indictment, and it was one of our witnesses and. They beat her so 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 that went us was Alisha Mitchell, who had worked under Kaplin for about eight years. Alicia first worked with him at Club Bokha in Florida. She then worked at the Gold Club as a goldbugs girl. One of the women selling the monopoly money called goldbugs to customers.
And then there's a program which I had never used the entire time that I had been within the Department of Justice, where crime victims, particularly this kind of crime victim, where something horrible physically has happened, can actually be compensated to try to repair some of that damage. They did implants and replaced her teeth. And I never got to see her, but I just knew through the grapevine that those things were happening.
You just can't have that kind of violence exercised against one of your witnesses in the case and not take action.
I mean, if you look at it from our perspective, from the Department of Justice perspective, we're not going to not going to allow that to happen and just breeze by. Alicia gave two different grand jury testimonies, the first she describes her relationship with Steve Kaplan as amicable. She was actually the same goldbugs girl who had skimmed money off the top while working. Kaplan scolded her but didn't fire her.
But a few months later, she came back and completely changes her story. OK'ing zigi, she tells LIJ about a loan sharking scheme in Florida, about how Kotlin and Nawabi met with gangsters collecting profits off the street. She says that Kaplin dated her daughter and called her daughter a scumbag.
She says the Kaplin forced her to have sex with customers or she'd be fired and points out that it wasn't just Kaplan running the sex schemes. All the managers, even the accountant, Larry Gly, were part of arranging sex between entertainers and customers. She says the Kaplin sometimes paid her in cash for her shifts and begged her not to tell anyone. Now, she also says that she'd seen John Gotti Jr. at the club. But she doesn't call him junior or Griffy, instead, she said he introduced himself as Greg.
We should point out that when we mentioned Alicia Mitchell to the defense attorneys, most of them can't remember who she was or they thought she was an unreliable witness. Defense counsel would say is that, you know, her credibility was called into question. But, you know, I strongly disagree with that. Leach says that zigi also received threats, there were several different instances where things happened, where he felt like he was in immediate bodily harm. And I and I believe him.
What I recall was he was on a Brooklyn street and he crossed the street in a van, pulled up and stopped sharply and guys got out of the van and he just thought, it's all over right here. It's all done. And words were exchanged, but they did not harm him. Steve Kaplan's lawyer, Steve Sadow, doesn't think Ziggy's testimony for the government is credible at all. He says a Zygi quickly changed his tune from the first day they met.
The first person I met at the club was Ziggy the day of the raid. So I spent time talking to Ziggy. He kept telling me how great the club was, how well it was run, how all these allegations were bullshit, how none of this stuff about the organized crime was true. It was all. Bogus zigi, say, part of the defense group, he went and met with a former federal prosecutor with the strike force up in the northeast and the strike force attorney talking to the government and turn him into a cooperating witness.
And they offered him, as you can imagine, an amazing deal to cooperate. So he was their ace in the hole. He knew everything about Steve's operation. You know, every woman, every entertainer, everything.
When asked to describe Ziggy, Seydel says that he's a coward. He was a coward, no backbone at all. If you're potentially facing years behind bars, but then receive an offer to dodge all that, what would you do when Sara was talking about Zygi switching sides? He was describing a strategy used by prosecutors, whether they were pursuing the mafia or otherwise, pick co-defendants, turn them against the defendants and offer a deal to them so they can skip prison time.
Bruce Harvey explains it like this.
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 to cooperate.
At the end of the day, I think that people act out of their own self-interest, which is understandable, of course, because that's who should be first in protecting their interests.
People are going to do what they need to do to to to help themselves.
I, I see it every day.
I continue to see it every day. The government still works in that fashion. Congress has made it exceedingly difficult not to do that. You get rewarded for cooperating. The government will reward you for cooperating. The judges will reward you for cooperating. It takes incredible strength. Incredible strength and intestinal fortitude to resist that. So I think it's as simple as that. Here, say it again, what the government likes to do is pick off defendants, co-defendants and turn them against the lead defendants to work up the chain to get the least culpable, to turn on what they claim to be the most culpable.
Now out of that. We lost zigi, we lost one another, one of the entertainers or dancers who turned out to be key witnesses for the government, the entertainer he's referencing is Yoanna Polynice, who was actually the first person to take a guilty plea.
This could be considered a failure on the defense because their first priority is to make sure their clients don't switch sides. I gave her an attorney, a female attorney who was very close to me, a very friendly attorney who I felt very confident would look after her. She gave in. She bowed to the pressure. It all took this very personally.
And after that, I told everyone, including her, that I would never speak to her again until Steve Kaplan's case was completely over and that we went through a period of time, four years. But we didn't talk. But everyone else stayed pat, which meant that the government couldn't tear us apart. Steve Kaplan's only concern in putting together his defense was nothing is going to happen to my employees. I'm not selling them out to help myself. If anyone takes the heat here, it's going to be me.
It's my club. These are my employees. They were loyal to me and I'm going to show loyalty back to them.
Losing Yoona to the government was especially painful for Jacqueline Bush. John and I are from Milwaukee together. We used to hang out together. We had the same mutual friends. We worked in the same strip clubs back there.
She and I were tight and I couldn't believe that she got so sick. She her I can say she was just scared. She's terrified. She didn't want to go to jail because they threatened her. They told her, you know, you're going to jail. We're going to take your child from you like they threatened her with all this stuff.
So she turned state's evidence. Well, the sad part for her was you fell for the okey doke and the federal government turned you into a state liar.
Jaclyn said that after the indictment came down, the environment at the club was vicious. Entertainers would tell customers that she was one of the people indicted. They were making jokes about her going to prison. She didn't feel like dancing. She was drinking too much. It's not funny on any level.
It's frightening. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life not watching my kids grow up.
If they lost the Gold Club case, all the defendants could spend decades in jail, even if their sentences were just months long, they could lose their licenses and their jobs. They could fall into financial ruin and be labeled a convict.
For Jacklin, something had to give. She couldn't be at the Gold Club anymore. She quits on her last night at the club. She goes up to the deejay booth and uses the microphone to thank everyone for their support and concern. And she ends by saying, and to all the people who have been dogging me out when all this is said and done, I can't wait to come back, look you in the face and tell you to kiss my fucking ass.
Threat of just being part of a legal scandal was frightening for all the people at the club. Even the people who weren't indicted were scared. Here's Nabis lawyer, the other Bruce, Bruce Morris. The FBI made friends with every one they could to get them to testify, and part of the speech they made to them is, listen, you were part of this. Now we really want your cooperation and we want you to come in and tell the truth of what we know happened.
And you don't have to do that, but, you know, as a part of it, you have criminal responsibility here. And while we really don't want to necessarily prosecute you, we always have that option.
And faced with that kind of choice, a number of people, dancers, floor manager Jennifer Romello, who worked as a go box girl, took the opportunity to join the government team, as it were, knowing that they would not be prosecuting. Attorney Bruce Morris client was the manager Nawabi. Nev's girlfriend, Jennifer Roman, also became a government witness. He ends up testifying for the government, logging hours of taped phone calls between her Nawabi and talking at all hours of the night with FBI agents.
When describing one of the government's witnesses, a journalist wrote Gold Club trial jury knows no fury like testimony from a former girlfriend.
A journalist wasn't talking about Jennifer, though he may as well have been. Former girlfriend was a woman named Debbie Penson. Debbie used to work at the Gold Club and said she used to date Kaplan in June 2000 when Sadow and Kaplan directed entertainers to record interviews with witnesses, Kaplan also hired a private investigator to find Debbie and interviewer. The P.I. found Debbie working at a hotel in Las Vegas. They actually knew each other because he had previously done business for Kaplin back in Atlanta.
They went out to lunch and the guy told her he was worried about being investigated by the FBI because of his affiliation with the club. But this was all just a ruse to record what she had to say. He was wearing a hidden microphone. Debbie had a lot on her mind. Kaplan had made her life miserable. He humiliated her at the Gold Club when she accidentally walked in on a dancer giving oral sex to Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks.
Kaplan was furious at her for walking into the room. It went on for hours. It went on for days, she told the detective. Debbie said Kaplan loved it, thrived on it, reveled in it when the Gold Club dancers had sex with celebrities. These girls perform things they did, she said. They did prostitute for him. And you know it. And I know it. And what it Caplan do all this for. Debbie said free basketball tickets the rest of his life.
On the next episode of Racquet, the trial begins and the Gold Club case, they're cutting deals with killers and torturers to get a guy who runs a strip club.
When I say the torture chamber, we're really talking about your bathtub. Correct.
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?
Trials are theater, but with freedom and liberty at stake. And it got real personal a couple of times where there were accusations from the defense. And, you know, people are more professional, a YouTube. A wreck in a wreck. Oh, my. A red red. Oh, my. Racket inside the Gold Club is a production of School of Human 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 Sonia BASHE Music is by Claire Campbell and Sound Design and mixes by tune welders. This episode features the voiceover talents of Judah Andrews. Executive producers are Brandon Barr, Elsie Crowley and Brian Lavin, along with Scott Grubman and Lawrence Zimmerman. 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. Listen to just be on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.