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This is Rocket Inside the Gold Club. I'm Christina Lee. This is our final episode. I. Early morning on August 2nd, 2001, 14 weeks after the trial began, the courtroom again was packed with journalists and spectators. This time, it wasn't for celebrities or mobsters. Instead, it was to hear a guilty plea.
This was the first time anyone was going to hear Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan actually speak. And they were going to be delayed another minute. Behind the scenes, there was a brief scuffle between the government and the feds, they'd come to an agreement, but they hadn't addressed who was going to be paying the remaining mortgage on the Gold Club.
By late morning, the prosecution relented on agreeing to take over the remaining one million dollars. And so finally, Kaplan shouldered up in front of Judge Willis Hunt. The choked voice, he whispered, guilty. To prostitution, credit card fraud and Delta Airlines ticket fraud. Commentator said. There we have it. The trial is ending it occur plop instead of a bang. After paying the lawyers fees for all of his employees on trial, which was four million dollars, he agrees to forfeit the Gold Club a five million dollars to the US government and pay an additional three hundred thousand dollars in restitution.
He also accepts that he will spend time in prison. Aside from that, all he said was, yes, sir, no, sir, and thank you. He had nothing else to say, not after prosecution and defense negotiated a plea bargain to end the Gold Club trial after nearly four long months. Kaplan also insisted that should they plead guilty, every Gold Club defendant would be guaranteed probation that had to include Reginald Burney, the retired police officer who faced more severe corruption charges.
Britney's lawyer, Dwight Thomas, decided to press on anyway because Bernie was working as a bodyguard, he'd risk losing his entire career even with probation. One of the things you always want to make your clients understand, jury verdicts have no certainty to you don't know which way they're coming down.
And in a case like this, there's a conviction you're going to prison and you're going for a long time. So you have to think about that. He thought about it. He talked it over with his wife and his family. And he came back to court the next day and said, look, we're going over this thing. And I was kind of pleased that you decided to do that. I felt we had a good case. Greg Gillen and his client, Michael de Leonardo, also pressed on with the trial.
Besides Bernie and Leonardo, all the other Gold Club defendants agreed to plead guilty. Capital would be the only defendant going to prison. That was a sacrifice he was willing to make for the sake of his employees. Gold Club shut down the same day as Kaplan entered his plea, though not before one last hurrah. Here's journalist Scott Henry. I think I showed up fairly late in the evening, maybe around 10:00 or so, because the feds were coming at midnight to lock the doors and folks have been partying in there.
The managers and dancers and favored clientele were having one last blowout and saying their goodbyes. The defense attorney, Don Samuel, explained why they ended up in a big plea bargain instead of fighting the case to the end. They were facing days, perhaps even weeks, of very dissatisfied customers of the Gold Club coming in and talking about how they've been scammed. Once you had all of these stories just heaped on top of one another, it tends to color the jury's opinion of of the defendants.
And they realized that they were not going to come out looking good and they decided it was a good time to cut a deal.
L.A. channel to broadcast the club's final hours as Don Sanyal sit on Champagne and Gold Room seven. It was really kind of sad. And a lot of ways the entertainers were all being fired. They were all losing their jobs.
This is Don Samuel. You'll hear his dog barking in the background. A lot of them were students. A lot of them were professional, you know, business people, you know, and a lot of ways it was it was a real letdown that it had come to an end without a verdict, you know, without an acquittal. And at midnight, as you know, the U.S. Marshals came in and said, that's it, you're closed. And they escorted everybody out of the building.
Gold Club closing was the end of an era and fairly anticlimactic until September 11th, 2001, so this thing wrapped up in 2001 and then 9/11 happened.
This is Jeff Dor, the now retired journalist from Atlanta's Channel two. He lived in the neighborhood across the street from the Gold Club.
All the planes are grounded in America. Channel two puts me in a car with a photographer. And we drive fast up to Washington and we get up there.
We spend a day or two there. We talk with whoever we can and we get interviews. We feed them back to Channel two and then they say, go to New York.
So we drive from Washington to New York and we are poking and prodding at the perimeter, trying to get to the to South Manhattan so we can cover the stuff that happened there. We get a call and they said, come back. We're not we're not going to have our people. Their networks are going to cover it. So we don't want you there, come home.
But door had come all this way, so he figured he could make the most out of this trip. Like other reporters, he had spent months covering the Gold Club trial. And he was so fascinated by Steve Kaplan, the business mogul. Dore figured he should see the fruits of Kaplan's labor for himself.
Well, I spent all this time covering the Gold Club trial, and there was a lot of talk about Steve Kaplan's original business that he still had was the Smoothie King in Penn Station. And that I heard too much about this.
I've got to go over there before we leave. So we drove over to Penn Station and down to like two levels underground. We found the Smoothie King and there was Steve Kaplan outside, leaning up against the wall with one pant leg rolled up and the other one not, which I found out later was supposed to be a sign that you're connected with the mob.
We should point out that The New York Times credited the style to bicycle messengers who didn't want their pants caught in their bike chains, Jam Master Jay of Run DMC also wore his pants that way, though he called it the hot hip hop thing to do.
In other words, no one dared attribute this to the Mafia. OK, here's Dorje again. And so he saw me walking up, remember, from the trials. Hey, how are you doing? And half of the guys from the trial were hanging out at the Smoothie King that day and it was like a big reunion from the trial and they were all very nice. He gave me a tour of the the back of the smoothie. It was pretty funny experience.
And then we drove home. Door might not have gotten to know Caplan this extensively if the Gold Club trial was scheduled even a few months later, the September 11th attacks were right in between the trial and sentencing. After that, New York's organized crime task force went from having up to 400 agents to as little as 20.
Here's attorney Don Samuel on how George W. Bush's war on terror tore the FBI's focus away from La Cosa Nostra. Mean the FBI suddenly went from, you know, kind of handling all these local crimes to whatever percentage of the entire force was suddenly doing antiterrorism? I think it changed. 9/11 had a huge impact on everybody. I'm not telling you anything that everybody who's who lived through that doesn't know. It changed everything. Everything had changed. Law enforcement had changed.
The court had changed everybody's view of the world. So the Gold Club, you know, just because of what had happened was the end of one era. And, you know, 9/11 was the beginning of another. We'll be right back.
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Dave Kaplan sentencing trial was in January 2002, he was sentenced to 16 months in prison. Six jurors showed up at the sentencing to support Kaplan. Three of them came up to him afterward, teary eyed and insisted on hugging him. They didn't think he deserved prison time or that he had anything to be sorry for.
One of the jurors would even name her newborn, Steven, after Kaplin. During the sentencing, Cabonne said. Made bad judgments. I hurt people's feelings. I'm sorry for that. I'm like a cancerous person. Nobody wants to be with me anymore except my friends.
Everybody's afraid of me. Behind the scenes, however, it was unapologetic. As part of the plea deal, Kaplan was fined five million dollars. He just so happens to have most of it on hand. Back when the Gold Club trial started, Kalpen was informed the FBI was coming to his Newark residence, so he fled and the FBI was puzzled by what he left behind to refresh our memories. Here's Dwight Thomas from Episode three.
They went down in his basement. They found about two million dollars of wite money, what we call the Modin money, the Kaplan discarded and just didn't even want it.
The government estimate he took a duffel bag out of that basement a little over five billion dollars in cash and left two million dollars, which he didn't want. There was actually about three billion dollars left and it was time to make use of it. Kaplan pitched the idea to his attorney, Steve Sadow.
So I called Steve and I said, hey, you know, we have to start making arrangements to pay something on the forfeiture. So he said, you remember all that mouldy money that they talk about in my basement. I said, yeah, he goes, I think I got about three million. How about we use that? I said, that sounds it sounds good to me, that's a nice opening statement then, you know, a couple more.
He goes, Yeah, let's see if we can use that. That way I can get rid of it. I'll have to deal with it anyhow.
Now said I had to figure out how to make this happen. So we call the forfeiture attorney who is handing over the forfeiture to the government.
I call her up and I said, we're ready to make our first installment. And she goes, Oh, great, how much? I said, I think approximately three million. She goes, OK, do you need the wiring information? And I said, no. She goes, well, we don't take personal checks, can't do a money order. It's not going to be a wire transfer. It's not going to be a cashier's check. I said, no, no, it's going to be cash.
She said cash. I said, yeah, three million, give or take in cash. The forfeiture attorney is shocked, cash, she goes and consults the U.S. marshal who's in charge of forfeiture, he's confused, too, so he sends her to Judge Hunt. Eventually, Judge Hunt says, well, we can't technically not take cash. The plea agreement just says the forfeiture must be in U.S. currency.
The government eventually agrees to cap and forfeiting the money in New York, so Kaplan and his accountant, Larry, flight bag up the moldy money and head to the bank.
They go back into some room in the bank and they count the money and they wind up ten dollars short of three million dollars.
So Steve got rid of all this old money and the government got its first initial payment, which was 10 dollars short of three million.
Ultimately, Judge Willis Hunt view the Gold Club trial as a credit card fraud case, and on that front, justice was indeed served when Steve Kaplan paid the restitution fees, prosecutor Art Leach funneled some of it toward paying back the victims of credit card fraud. He personally wrote a check to a man who the Gold Club charged twenty five thousand dollars. Still, Judge had said that any effort to link Kaplan to the mob beyond a reasonable doubt was relatively unsuccessful.
But Lead says the captain pleaded guilty before he could truly make those connections clear, and the best was yet to come.
Let me tell you, I mean, I had some witnesses that were going to just absolutely blow their doors off. You know, one of the philosophies in criminal litigation is start strong and strong. And let me tell you, we had a strong and really strong and we just never got there, which is fine. I mean, they pled guilty. Case was resolved. Move on.
No, he wouldn't say who would have taken the stand. Leach also stresses that time was of the essence. So even though his case might have been less than perfect, he still had to act fast with what was at stake. And even though the people indicted didn't get as harsh of sentences as they could, Leach has no regrets, not a war. It was the right thing to do. And, you know, there oftentimes people look at the Department of Justice and think, you know, they have this 90 something percent conviction rate and everything is perfect and everything's always great.
There are times where you need to take a less than perfect case and you need to go forward because there are people who need to be prosecuted, because by prosecuting these people, you are going to protect your community. And that is what we did in the Gold Club case. Steve Sadow is more aggressive, importing fingers. He blames Leach for creating a trial that was a waste of time and money that resulted in unnecessary convictions, and that was the result of his personal morals.
I think they went after him because Art Leach was a moralist and thought that in some form or fashion he was cleaning up the community. He was making it land. The community that he wanted to have, they had in their own mind, try to turn this into organized crime, had come to Atlanta and we were going to clean it up. So it was it was the total moralistic viewpoint, along with the fact that there was a lot of money involved.
If they convicted, Steve took the club and took the amount of forfeiture, the media wouldn't be nearly as harsh. But while the Gold Club trial began as a story that seemed too juicy to be true, reporters ultimately struggle to make sense of it all.
One headline from the Atlanta Journal Constitution Red Gold Club Prosecutors promised a mob case fizzles for Atlanta alt weekly Creative Loafing journalist Scott Henry asked, So was it worth it?
The largest grand jury investigation in state history.
Three months and counting on the federal court meter wear and tear on the witness stand for 50 plus people, all to accomplish what exactly?
Bill Simmons got a star at ESPN Dotcom by gleefully recapping the courtroom proceedings.
Yet as time wore on, he'd only remembered the Gold Club case as a very embarrassing and long trial.
But Leach maintains what he said in his opening statement. He was dogged about Capone's mob ties then and he still is now.
That's why he ultimately considers the Gold Club trial a success.
I do because the objective from the standpoint of the organized crime strike force was to see that the Gambino crime family was no longer active in the Atlanta metro area and the Gold Club was a major asset for the Gambino crime family.
It was generating millions of dollars for the Gambino crime family on an annual basis.
And by forfeiting the Gold Club that removed that asset from the Gambino crime family forever.
And without those assets, Leach says La Cosa Nostra hasn't been able to take hold in Atlanta since.
We'll be right back. When Law and Order is the headline, what does it really mean for us? Now I'm Kate Williams, an attorney and former public defender. I'm also a broadcast journalist and host of a new podcast. We're going to cross-examine newsmaking cases and famous faces to help better understand the facts and the context of the narrative. That's right. And I'm Dustin Ross. I'm a TV writer and a cultural observer. And more importantly, I am thrilled to be cohosting holding court with Eboni K.
This is not a legal podcast and it ain't no true crime podcast. No, we're helping you understand how to navigate a rigged system. That's right. This show is for the people, Dan, to help us understand how the laws impact our lives. So we're going to break down the so-called law and order headlines and get to what it really means for the culture. That's right, you guys, let's get informed. Let's get talking and let's bring some light and insight to our community.
Listen to hold in court with Eboni K. Williams on the I Heart radio app, on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Steve Kaplan got out of prison on a shortened sons, his New York business empire remains intact. In fact, Larry is still his accountant. Ziggy still runs his youth basketball program. And we don't know much else besides that. He never replied to our request for an interview and blogged all of our producers on Facebook.
Reginal Berney eventually won his case, so he was able to continue his security business until he passed away in twenty nineteen Jacklin Bush is still good friends with Kaplan, but the trial turned her life upside down. The year after it wrapped, she was working at a restaurant when she spotted Art Leach.
Him and his family were and I was waitressing and I lost past and I looked and I'm like, oh, my God. And I went straight back by the kitchen and I'm standing there for a second. I started, like, hyperventilating because that's the last person I want to be. You destroyed my life. And he walks over to me, how are you doing this? But I looked at him. I said, I'm doing fine. How are you gonna choke on your steak?
And I walked away and then I looked back and the good times were great. Oh, my God. They were just so over the top like everything was over the top. At the bad times were just really bad, they really were really bad. I don't wish it on my worst enemy. I've I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone, anyone that I've hurt over the years or, you know, did anything to you. I've apologized and I've asked for forgiveness and I've forgiven myself.
But regrets? I have none. Not one regret. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It would be a couple of things that I would change about the situation to protect myself, knowing what I know now. But hindsight is 20/20. Jacqueline moved to Nevada. She's married, and her now husband used to work at the Gold Club as a bartender.
As for Leach, he retired from the US District Attorney's Office a few months after the Gold Club trial to launch his own private practice. Michael did. Leonardo also won his case. He was found not guilty of being a captain and funneling money from Kaplan to the mob. But in 2005, the Leonardo entered the witness security program, in other words, he became an informant for the FBI because he was, in fact, part of La Cosa Nostra. As part of that plea, he pleaded guilty to the Gold Club charges.
Today, the Gold Club building is a nightclub, not a strip club called the Gold Room.
Typically, it hosts corporate events, charity benefits and film and TV wrap parties.
When L.A. last hosted the Super Bowl and 12 19 rap group Amigos hosted an after party at the Gold Room where they made it rain half a million dollars. Amigos called the event Super Bowl, even though the Gold Room does not technically have strippers.
But before all that, after the feds locked up the Gold Club, the building sat vacant for two years. L.A. transit system, MARTA, the property for a minute. The location is convenient, and after all, the Gold Club had originally opened with downtown conventioneers in mind. In 2003, Dangar and his wife were driving around Atlanta scouting properties and we were driving up Piedmont Road and my wife said, hey, what about the old Gold Club?
And she's not normally funny. So I thought she was making a joke. But I felt this isn't typical. And she was serious. And I thought and this is not what I'm thinking of, but but OK, sure.
See, Garrett wanted a home for his congregation. He's a pastor.
Though the vacant strip club was not what he had imagined, he got in touch with the leaseholders anyway. At the time, the property owners wanted to tear down the Gold Club to make room for condos.
Yet after a successful negotiation, Garrett landed a temporary lease.
Even though Garrett's wife is serious about the property, she couldn't help herself. You know, when she said, hey, we should why don't you check into the Gold Club and I like Yeah, right. And, you know, you could call God's club. I was like, you've got to be kidding.
That became the nickname for Christian church, Buckhead God's Club, before the Garretts could welcome their congregation, they had their route through what was left from the gold clubs last night. In August 2001, hundreds of people from all over the city donated supplies and offered their time to the club.
But as we were cleaning up with our shovels and brooms and somebody tacked 20 dollar bill on the bulletin board, and it kind of represented that if you saw anything less than that, you didn't even pick it up. I mean, it was just, you know, it's just gross in there.
We ended up I think the number was five dumpster loads of just stuff, couches and chairs and tables and things that there was no way we were going to ever sit on or use or salvage.
We did find a wedding ring and one of the sofas. They Tozzo sofa's to make room for the chairs they got from a contractor who just want to bid for a holiday, and Garrett didn't have the money for the chairs, but they decided on a trade, 100 chairs for the Neon and the Gold Club sign.
Yeah, when I went to seminary, I did not envision that I would be trading, you know, with the with the guy out in front of the old strip club, the neon sign for old beat up chairs from the Holiday Inn. That was not my vision for my life.
Appropriately, Kaplan's office was where they collected and counted their offerings. They covered the full length mirrors in the main room with top curtains are virtually the Garras wanted to break the mirrors, but there were too many of them. They ripped up the carpet, which was smart because who knows how much time period had been poured onto it.
They gutted the VIP rooms down to the studs so they can be used for Sunday school.
It's one thing for you and your partner, you know, to go to worship. It's another thing to take your second grader upstairs in the old Gold Club and drop them off in a VIP room. So we we had to make that place sparkling, which we did. There was nothing left that our kids were going to bump into. As funny of a mental image as that may be, Gary knew that the Gold Club had always been more than a den of sin.
We kind of all ended up together walking into this room and we all just stopped. I mean, I'm not sure anybody was even breathing.
It was just that kind of moment. It was the dressing room. And I don't call them girls. These are not girls. These are ladies. These are women. It was the dressing room for the women.
They they were stacked lockers. Sort of like middle school, that lockers about six across the top, six across the bottom and the doors, some of the doors were hanging open.
They were all covered with photos. For photos of husband and wife and two kids in front of the Christmas tree. Thanksgiving photos of families around the tables, lots of pictures of kids, the school pictures with the toothless third grader. These were mothers is our wives. These are people with dignity. And we stopped and prayed. Just stopped and then we'll tell you we cleaned up and transformed the whole place before we ever walk back in there. It just became this.
Only place. But we realize. But what happened in that building? Finally, we said, you know, we've got to go in and clean out that room and we delicately and I remember one of our ladies just collecting the photos. Now, this is these are people's lives. People's lives on walkers. It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Four hundred fifty people came to the Christian church bulkheads first service. Some of them just wanted to see how the Gold Club had been transformed and that was fine with Garrett, I've joked that when you start a church in an old strip club, you don't really need a sign out front that says, everybody welcome in sort of it's sort of self-evident that anybody can come here.
We had we had Addicks, we had Mercedes. We had people who walked from the apartment building at a super sharp Georgia Tech kids, young professionals coming from the apartments and condos and everybody.
Together in this place, just singing and I had this, you know, a loud band, which was a lot of fun and it was just a picture of what?
But I think God wants and what most of us want, so people from all backgrounds. Together in a place. Celebrating life, celebrating positive, celebrating the presence of God. The church only stayed in the Gold Club location for six months before moving outside city limits, before those six months, Guards Club was praying for salvation.
We're entertainers had one stance, asshole naked.
This is racket inside the Gold Club. A wreck in a wreck. Oh, my life for.
He ran, he ran. 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 two molders executive producers are Brandon Barr, Elsie Crowley and Brian Lavin, along with Scott Grubman and Lord Zimmerman.
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