Trial against strip-club owner begins in Atlanta
ATLANTA (AP) -- A trial began Monday for a strip-club owner accused of running a high-priced brothel with ties to a New York crime family and providing prostitutes for prominent athletes.
Federal investigators say Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan diverted millions from the club's cash flow to buy protection from the Gambino family and bilked customers by overbilling their credit cards.
A federal indictment also accuses him of ordering more than 20 beatings of people who did not repay high-interest loans.
Kaplan and six associates are expected to be on trial in U.S. District Court for five months.
Judge Willis Hunt said 98 prospective jurors were on hand for the start of jury selection. The judge does not plan to sequester jurors.
Kaplan and his co-defendants are charged with loan sharking, money laundering and bribing police officers, among other things.
Prosecutors say Kaplan, whose club is one of the most profitable nude clubs in the country, set up famous athletes with prostitutes. He even flew a group of women to Charleston, S.C., in 1997 to "perform a lesbian sex show" and have sex with members of an NBA team, according to the indictment.
The indictment did not identify the team, but the New York Knicks were in Charleston in April 1997 for a playoff training camp.
Gold Club employees also are accused of sending women to Miami, Las Vegas and Minneapolis for sex with celebrities or regular paying customers. One person spent more than $100,000 over six months, investigators say.
NBA stars Patrick Ewing, Dennis Rodman and Charles Oakley were among the athletes and celebrities who received free food and drinks worth thousands of dollars when they visited the club, according to receipts seized by the FBI.
None of the club's patrons is charged with a crime.
Hunt has sealed the names of celebrities and athletes who prosecutors say had sex with club dancers, but some athletes are expected to testify as government witnesses.
Defense attorneys say the government purposely exaggerated celebrity and mob ties to paint the club as a den of sin.
Kaplan could face more than 40 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Others could face 20 years.
Seven more defendants are to be tried in December.