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Lawyer: 'Junior' Gotti to take Fifth in Gold Club case

Gold Club
The Gold Club is Atlanta's highest-profile, all-nude strip bar  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Convicted mobster John A. "Junior" Gotti won't cooperate in the racketeering case against a prominent Atlanta strip club, his lawyer said.

"He will be taking the Fifth Amendment," Gotti's attorney, Linda Sheffield, told CNN. "We don't believe there are any circumstances that can compel him to testify. We don't know why he was called."

Gotti, the son of former Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, was quietly moved to Atlanta's federal penitentiary in late April to await a possible appearance in the Gold Club racketeering case.

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Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan and six others face charges of participating in a criminal conspiracy that included prostitution, money laundering, credit card fraud, extortion and bribery. Kaplan denies the charges and is picking up the legal bills for others indicted with him.

Sheffield stressed that Gotti is not charged in connection with the Gold Club case.

"If I were lawyers for the defendants, I'd be absolutely going ballistic that this has gotten out and jury selection hasn't been completed. If you want to connect John Gotti to the case, bring a case -- don't try the case by ambush."

The Gold Club is Atlanta's highest-profile, all-nude strip bar. It is also the most profitable, having once racked up $20 million in annual sales.

While Gotti is not named in the indictment, it does accuse Kaplan of paying the Gambino crime family for protection for the Gold Club and a nightclub he owned earlier in Boca Raton, Florida. Prosecutors also accuse club managers of skimming millions in protection money for the New York-based Gambino family, which the younger Gotti ran after his father's conviction.

Testimony is expected to begin next week after lawyers finish grilling prospective jurors. Questions include whether jurors watch the television crime drama "The Sopranos" or whether they have ever paid for sex.

Kaplan and Bush
Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan and former dancer Jacklyn Bush leave the Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse in Atlanta  

Kaplan is charged with using the club's VIP rooms to lure superstar athletes and celebrities to boost the club's reputation, plying them with free food, drinks, lesbian sex shows and strippers he paid to have sex with guests.

Among beneficiaries of the club's hospitality, prosecutors say, were the New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing; former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman; and football players Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos and Jamal Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons. All four have been subpoenaed to testify that they had sex with Gold Club dancers, CNN/SI has reported.

None of the players would comment, and none are charged with any wrongdoing.

Another defendant, Michael DiLeonardo, is accused of delivering payoffs to the New York mob as a Gambino family captain.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Art Leach, the lead prosecutor in the federal trial, declined comment on Gotti's move to the Atlanta penitentiary.

"Junior" Gotti was serving a 77-month sentence in an upstate New York prison for extortion, bribery, fraud and gambling when U.S. marshals rousted him from his cell on April 24 and sent him to Atlanta under guard.

"He was taken by surprise, he didn't even get to make a phone call," Sheffield told CNN. "They didn't tell him where he was going."

Sheffield said Gotti can't be forced to testify unless the attorney general grants him immunity, and she doesn't expect that to happen.

"I imagine once he takes the Fifth, that will be that," she said.

Gotti
John A. "Junior" Gotti  

But Georgia State University law professor Mark Kadish says prosecutors can seek immunity at "a local level."

"If Art Leach wants to get him immunity, he could get it," said Kadish, a top trial lawyer who helped F. Lee Bailey successfully defend Lt. Ernest Medina against charges of war crimes in Vietnam and was often consulted during the O.J. Simpson case.

Prosecutors, for example, could argue that certain questions don't incriminate Gotti but simply establish a relationship with Kaplan. Both Gotti and Kaplan live just a few miles apart on Long Island; their children go to the same school; and their wives know each other.

But if it "implies to the jury they are neighbors and there might be a social relationship and that's not true, it's the first link in a chain of evidence that could lead to some evidence that could be incriminating," Sheffield said.

If Gotti did receive immunity and refused to testify, he could be jailed for up to 18 months for contempt, Kadish said.



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