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Jury picked in racketeering trial of strip club owner

Gold.club
Prosecutors say the Atlanta strip club is tied to organized crime  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A jury of seven men and five women were picked Wednesday for the federal racketeering trial of a strip club owner charged with using nude dancers as prostitutes to lure celebrities and big name athletes, transforming the Gold Club into a $20 million a year business tied to organized crime.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers for Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan and six associates also charged in the conspiracy took less than 30 minutes to winnow down the jury pool from 41. ("Sopranos" gets potential juror bounced)

The trial is expected to last three months, with opening arguments scheduled to begin Monday.

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U.S. District Court Judge Willis Hunt promised the 12 jurors and six alternates some long weekends and extra time off for the Fourth of July if the trial is still going on then.

The club, still in business, drew scores of superstar athletes and celebrities. The indictment charges that those stars had sex with strippers paid for by Kaplan. He has denied all charges.

While no names appear in the indictment, more than a dozen have been subpoenaed to testify for the government, among them: current or ex-pro basketball stars like Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman, and NFL players Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson.

No athlete has been charged with any wrongdoing; all have declined comment. Judge Hunt has sealed athletes' names in court records.

Hunt delayed opening arguments until Monday after lead defense lawyer Steve Sadow phoned in sick, with flu-like symptoms and a lost voice, his secretary told CNN.

But Sadow showed up for jury selection, telling reporters afterward, "It's the best jury I've seen in 20 years in federal court. We are thrilled with the jury makeup."

Kaplan
Club owner Kaplan faces a number of federal charges  

Freed from a promise to the judge not to discuss the case until a jury was seated, Sadow was on the attack.

"A great jury," he said, "that will see through what I call the government smokescreen ... of lying government witnesses" yet to testify.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Art Leach, chief of Atlanta's organized crime strike force, said he was equally pleased, striking jurors believed to nurse anti-government bias, like one businessman with IRS troubles. He declined to elaborate, or discuss any witnesses.

But one witness who testified in a pre-trial phase is expected to be back early on in the trial -- a New York FBI agent who is qualified as an expert on organized crime.

His role will be to educate jurors on gangland slang. In this trial, convicted mobsters in the witness protection program are expected to take the stand for the government, sources tell CNN.

Scoffing at their credibility, Sadow suggested his defense team would chew them up with their "get out of jail free cards."

Gold Club owner Kaplan and his associates are also accused of credit card fraud, money laundering, extortion, loan sharking, obstruction of justice, bribing two Atlanta police officers and having illegal mob ties, including paying protection money to the Gambino crime family. Kaplan could get 40 years in prison, the others as much as 20 years, if convicted.

Law enforcement sources said the Gambinos remain powerful, despite having a former godfather and his son behind bars.

John Gotti Sr., also known as "the dapper Don," headed the family before he was jailed for life and had to swap $2,000 Armani suits for prison garb. One son, John A. Gotti, is also behind bars, serving 77 months. Nicknamed "Junior," he was recently transferred to Atlanta's federal prison in case he's called to testify in the case.

After court, Kaplan attorney Sadow said transporting the younger Gotti was a prosecution stunt designed to prejudice the jury. Gotti's lawyers say he'll plead the Fifth Amendment.



RELATED STORIES:
Gold Club trial delayed due to lawyer's illness
Lawyer: 'Junior' Gotti to take Fifth in Gold Club case
Gotti suffers cancer relapse
Like father like son: 'Junior' Gotti goes to jail
Atlanta strip club owner indicted on racketeering charges

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