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Lawyer performs mock striptease in rackets trial

May 16, 2001
Web posted at: 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT)



ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- On a day in which a defense attorney performed a mock striptease, an FBI agent Tuesday gave the jury in the federal racketeering trial of Atlanta strip club owner Steve Kaplan and six others a lesson in how organized crime is organized.

FBI agent Jack Stubing took the stand as the government's first witness shortly after lawyers for the defendants finished their opening statements.

Charges in the case include over-billing credit cards, laundering money, bribing cops, loan-sharking, intimidating witnesses and skimming millions in protection money Kaplan allegedly funneled to the New York-based Gambino Mafia family.

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Using a large flow chart, Stubing demonstrated how power flows in mob families -- from boss to underboss to "capos," or captains, who are expected to bring in big bucks. Captains oversee "soldiers," Stubing said. A soldier can work his way up if he inspires his "crew" to do a lot of the dirty work and bring in lots of cash, Stubing said.

Defendant Michael DiLeonardo, aka "Mikey Scars," is identified in the indictment as a captain in the Gambino crime family, although he has never been convicted of any crime. He is accused of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

The Gambino family was run by the flamboyant John Gotti Sr., the so-called "Teflon Don," until he was jailed for life after three jury acquittals. He was succeeded by his son, John A. Gotti, called "Junior," who himself wound up behind bars for 77 months.

Kaplan is accused of a longtime business relationship with Junior Gotti and the Gambino family. Junior Gotti was recently transferred to Atlanta's federal prison, but his attorneys say he will take the Fifth Amendment if called to testify.

CNN has learned David Alwais, a Kaplan family cousin, could take the stand as early as Wednesday afternoon to testify for the government about Kaplan's alleged ties to Junior Gotti.

Alwais was accused in 1997 of helping to run a loan-sharking operation out of check cashing store in Florida. He has also been accused of threatening people and extortion.

Among the charges against Kaplan is that he paid strippers to have sex with superstar athletes to draw them to the club, raise its profile and profits.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Art Leach, prosecuting the case, said three prominent athletes will testify, Terrell Davis of the NFL's Denver Broncos, Jamal Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons and Patrick Ewing of the NBA's New York Knicks.

In addition, at least two other basketball stars, Dikembe Mutombo of the Philadelphia 76ers and former NBA player Dennis Rodman, have been subpoenaed by prosecutors.

Bruce Harvey, the lawyer for stripper Jacklyn Bush who is accused of prostitution, said in his opening statement his client was a top earner at the club because she pocketed large tips and sold expensive bottles of champagne -- not because she had sex with customers.

"All she did was dance," said Harvey.

Bush, whose stage name was "Diva," stripped to be a responsible single parent to her three children, Harvey said. Other strippers envied her earning power, Harvey said, because she sold more $400 bottles of champagne than they did.

"Talent is always rewarded," Harvey said.

To demystify Atlanta after dark and his client, Harvey leaped onto a table, using it as a T-stage to do a little dirty dancing of his own.

"Let's be real about this, this is what she does, she's a stripper," said Harvey, moving his hips.

Some jurors sat wide-eyed. Harvey kept up the mock striptease and began to take off his jacket. At that point, U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt closed the show.

One witness who may support the prosecution's case is one of Bush's rivals, Jana Pelnis, whose stage name was Frederique. Pelnis swore at a sentencing hearing that not only did she perform lesbian sex shows with Diva for superstar clients, she also had sex with them -- and she saw Kaplan give Diva cash to pay her and other strippers after a night's work.

The lawyer for former Atlanta police officer Reginald Burney, who is accused of bribery, wondered in his opening statement why everyone identified on the witness list so far is black.

"Everyone who has been identified is black," said Dwight Thomas, noting that he recalled seeing white athletes and at least one media mogul, also white, on a witness list.

"Why haven't any whites on the witness list been mentioned by name?" Thomas asked.

As for Burney's alleged sex with strippers, Thomas said his client did have a brief affair, but "that's over."

Then he pointed out Burney's supportive wife sitting in court. Jurors stared. She waved back.

"He's suffered enough," Thomas said.


Greta@LAW






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