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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 a racket inside the Gold Club Episode six, Tantrums and Torture, as the episode title gives away.
This episode contains details of graphic violence from a few good men to Judge Judy.
Pop culture has love to dramatize what happens inside the courtroom. And the musical Chicago chorus girl Roxie Hart's lawyer tells them to give them the old razzle dazzle that'll shake off a murder charge.
Here's lead defense attorney Steve Sadow, trials are theater, but with freedom and liberty at stake, it's not simply about how well you perform. It's performance that ends in a given result. But the most scandalous parts of the Gold Club trials were juicier than fiction. Day two featured a damn table dance. It's May 15, 2001, 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.
Do 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 14, 14 years old.
Harvey wondered how the Gold Club's premier 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 cocounsel hit the hit the button on the boom box and it jumped up on 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, though, Bruce is a really good looking guy, ponytail, tall, thin, dramatic, tremendous courtroom presence.
The presiding judge for the trial, Judge Willis Hunt, wasn't impressed. He tells Harvey to get off the table for Harvey. Was it finished?
I'm thinking, OK, what can I do next? And my ideas got shot down. The the place was packed. So I. I put my coat 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 you buy me a drink?
What are you doing here? Where are you from? You know, I started giving them the whole dancer kind of seduction routine to get them to buy me a bottle of champagne. Guy was totally embarrassed.
I remember he was like turning beet red between the athletes and the mobster set to testify. A swarm of media had already descended upon downtown Atlanta, but then ESPN and The New York Times caught wind of the striptease by the silvered 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 epitaph. 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 courtroom.
This is Bill Rankin, who's a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He covered the whole trial.
You have the government with our Leach and Glen Baker and some of the agents. On one hand, you have all all these defense attorneys and their clients on the other side. And there was Judge Willis Hunt, who is a I thought you handled the case as well as he could. He was I think his main challenge was just keeping order between the attorneys because there was a lot of vitriol. I mean, this was a 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 who called them 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 is with the devil. That's what they believe it is. They believe is with the persecutor. I mean, the prosecutor.
This is from the opening statement of Dwight Thomas. Thomas represented Reginald Burney, the retired officer accused of tipping off the golf club of permit checks and police raids.
And it was a big deal that he called Art Leach a persecutor instead of a prosecutor.
Know if that was a slip of the tongue or not. That's Thomas today. Back then, he tried to brush his mistake off. But when Leach raise an objection saying that he wouldn't tolerate such personal attacks, Thomas didn't sound sorry.
It's kind of like my mom said, hit dog holler.
He said, mean that if you throw a rock at a dog, you hit him. You yell, Well, I threw a rock at somebody in that courtroom and they yelled.
Tensions were high, and during the course of opening statements, Sadow actually almost got hit, an FBI agent who had been working the case, Mark, through a videotape at him. In September, two thousand prosecution wanted to arrest Steve Kaplan for contacting Jennifer Romanenko, the Gold Club's old receptionist, and Nev's girlfriend, who became an eyewitness.
His attorney said Kaplan didn't realize this was a legal.
However, Steve say it all suggested that what was far more inappropriate was Mark Soules relationship with Roman Romello.
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 3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning, the time when people should be sleeping, Seydel discovered that all these late night phone calls were to Mark Marksville.
So I started asking her questions about Agent Sue. 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 does 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 3:00 a.m. on this day, who are you talking about? The case?
Wait, let me see. You're not married. Right. But Mr. Shue is correct. And you're calling him at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. What are you all talking about? Are you trying to give him some information that you just happened to remember? I don't know. Mark and I used to talk all the time about all kinds of things.
And Sewel 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 fuel 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 videotape and throws it at me in the courtroom. And and begins to march towards gets in my face, I don't lose it, I just stand there and he just goes off Steve Sadow and the government.
They locked horns all the time. Journalist Bill Rankin again. 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 videotape that they promised to turn over and mikes or they just flung it on him like Berloni, him like a Frisbee and a stun gun. When court resumed, they they reported it to just happened. And our leader had to apologize. And I think that says a lot about what was going on.
You know, you don't see that kind of thing. You know, people are more professional. You 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, Mr S. how 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 turn to June, Judge Hunt threatened a mistrial over the complete lack of decorum. 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.
On April 30th, 2001, a couple of weeks before the trial, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a front page story about all the mobsters who would be taking the stand and 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 Fadeout, give me a call and said I could come over to his office and look at some files he had put together. And I 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 in the story also quote Sadow, 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 Renkin all of this information was intentional on Saito'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 sordid witnesses for him to write basically a Sunday story of several pages outlining who would be expected to testify against Steve Kaplan in the Gold Club, in the story was was astonishingly detailed.
The AJC story begins when 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. Sado Tind releasing this information about the sordid government witnesses just write the article came out the day of jury selection. That way, the fact that Art Leach 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, its terrible witnesses had been exposed. Jury selection went well.
Leach nixed two of the original 12 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 believe that new clubs should be banned. Sadow was so pleased with this selection, he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, It's the best jury I've seen in 20 years in federal court.
Defence was intent on showing that the most unsavory characters in the courtroom weren't the people on trial, but the ones under witness protection, Rankin's 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 snafu Leach had John Gotti Jr. transported from a New York prison to Atlanta.
But Gotti Jr. pleaded the fifth. He did not testify. Leach never explained why he brought Gotti down from New York, not even to Godey'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, reconvert about one witness, Dino Bastiano, and his article. They ask him all the stuff you've 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. 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 giving a life sentence, he was given six years in prison. And I guess his most important testimony at the trial was that he saw Kaplan slip envelopes stuffed with cash to a Gambino crime.
Captain Shorty Muskego, another eyewitness, was Big John Gibbons at the time. He was a 400 pound gangster who had some dealings with Kaplan at his club in Boca Raton. Michael de Leonardos lawyer Craig Gillen cross-examined him. Guillen asked Givens to walk through all the criminal acts Givens had done, starting with routinely beating people up, which Givens called whomping people up.
I walked him through on cross-examination all the things that he did and all the things that he would do to save himself. Yeah. All right. You know, you talked about beating people up. You would call locking them up. You know, you do this. You 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 or an FBI agent or DEA agent with your buddies, and then you would then have badges, warrants would 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, Mr. 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? 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 with that messy cleanup problem when you've been cutting people up all day.
Can just hose down the tub. That's right. Elin then explained Gibbons' 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, the 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 slice other people's nostrils and put little cigars up their nostrils. He would threaten to cut off their their testicles. He would cut off from man's ear. Whatever it took to get the information is what Mr. Givens was prepared to do. Now, when you're torturing somebody, there's 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.
Guillen looked over at the jurors. They're horrified, looks at it all in the 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 toward the end. So I said, well, 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.
Guillen is insinuating that the only reason Gibbons is testifying is because he knows he will get less prison time if he does so, not because he knows of any criminal activity.
Kaplan to Leonardo and the rest of the Gold Club defendants dead, but to save himself and, you know, with all these people want 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 was the most frightening thing to me, to everyone on the jury, was that these were people that were eventually going to be back in our community.
Oh, Rankin felt a similar way to Guillén about the Mafia witnesses, that the crimes they committed were so much worse than whatever the Gold 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, and the government probably would have said, you know, we cut deals with sharks to catch a bigger fish. But some people would say they were letting a whale go to catch minnows. And 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, none 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 trial sat attentively. They reacted to powerful testimony. They had a sense of humor, especially when Art Leach's parade of gangsters took the stand. One of the witnesses, David Campeau, tried disguising himself with dark shades and a fake beard.
The next day, the jurors all wore Groucho 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 scene 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 captain's alleged involvement with the mob meant that he was culpable, enabling these dangerous people to do their work.
The jury 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 put on the stand who with a 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 look, 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 Coppo.
We'd said he was at the top of the Gold Club operation with Kaplan handing off money and protection, forced him to give to the Gambino. Leonardo was a larger than life presence.
Attorney Bruce Morris was very impressed by him.
Michael de Leonardo was the slickest. And 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 11, combed his hair straight back, was, you know, a reasonable build.
Not not not slender, but not too muscular and certainly not overweight. Wore, you know, tailored suits. You could see your reflection and 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 10 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 Leonardos gritty appearance to his advantage. Know these scars weren't battle scars. So I unveiled this big, huge poster, the picture of poor little innocent Michael Dehlin out of 11 years old with his face ahead, head 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 11 year old Michael D.
Leonardo, who had been the victim of a dog attack and left scars on his face. And literally, you could see and the jury is kind of walking back, I can see two or three people on the jury tearing up because they must have had the same impression everyone else did, that dealing aro had to get these scars in some sort of massive street fight. But that wasn't the case. By week 12, 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 attorney Steve Sadow, Judge Hunte 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 to 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 going to have a mistrial. What what what is this? He says the juror then gets down on his knees and begs forgiveness for what he's done to 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. Just as well, OK, he says, and I sent it to the prosecutor. And the judge, did 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 turn 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 I 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, oh, hold on here a minute, we'd 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, OK, we'll recess court. Mr. Leach, you make arrangements to get the letter, get the letter brought back down here and circulate the copy of the letter under seal to everybody in the case, all the lawyers, so we can see it.
And the letter basically says, Dear Mr. 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. Saddam is attacking you every single night in the media. You've got to do something. You've got to stop him from attacking you. A few days later, the jury was upset that another juror 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 Leach'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, trial's not over and things can change it soon.
Had his 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.
Oh, I do. I have 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 Glaive, the Gold Club's accountant, who was also on trial.
And Steve comes back and he says, I've got to talk to you. And I said, OK, he goes, it's really, really important. I said, OK, OK. So we go out in one of the 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 got to tell me.
He goes, So we're at this restaurant and we're we're standing in line. And this group of jurors is 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 in 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 they loved him.
Here's prosecutor Art Leach. He saw it a different way.
I was really concerned with jury tampering 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 alert to that situation as well. To be perfectly honest, we think the trial is going remarkably well.
On the next episode of bracket, 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 you, did you have sex with the little grand and he just said both of them, you know, I got a call that the king of Sweden was going to sue me for slander or something, which was kind of funny.
I'm Christine Ali. This is Rocket Inside the Gold Club. There could be wreckage, oh, my life, my.
Oh, my. Racket 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 Sonia Vashi music is by Claire Campbell and sound design and mixes by tune welders.
Executive producers are Brandon Barr, Elsie Crowley and Brian Levin, along with Scott Grubman and Lord Zimmerman.
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.
Listen to just be on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.