NBA's Davis sues over Gold Club claims
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Strongly rebuking allegations that he accepted sexual favors at an Atlanta strip club, NBA star Antonia Davis on Wednesday filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against one of the trial's witnesses.
Davis filed the lawsuit after a witness in a trial involving the Atlanta venue, The Gold Club, last week alleged the Toronto Raptors star was one of many athletes to accept sexual favors from the club's dancers.
"These statements are false, and not only are they false, they're just malicious lies," Davis said at a news conference Wednesday, with his wife at his side. "They're very hurtful to me, they're very hurtful to my wife, they're very hurtful to my family -- all the people I've worked so hard to believe in me."
Thomas "Ziggy" Sicignano, a former executive at The Gold Club, testified that Davis and a parade of other famous athletes accepted the favors arranged by club owner Steve Kaplan.
Kaplan is on trial in Atlanta on federal racketeering charges, along with six associates. Federal prosecutors allege Kaplan has ties to the Gambino organized crime family.
Davis' defamation suit against Sicignano was filed in federal court in New York Wednesday afternoon, said his attorney, Gary Hall.
While conceding that neither federal nor Georgia laws allow Sicignano to be sued for his court testimony, Hall said Sicignano has repeated those charges outside of the courtroom to news organizations, friends and other players. Those statements are not protected and they will be the basis of the lawsuit, he said.
Witness stands behind charges
In an interview Tuesday before the lawsuit was filed, Sicignano told CNN that he stands behind his allegations.
"Let Antonio Davis go on TV and say what he wants. But others will corroborate that," Sicignano said. "At his request, we took women to his room."
Davis said he visited The Gold Club only once, in the early 1990s when he played for the Indiana Pacers. He said he does not remember whether he met Sicignano there.
"I meet a lot of people. I might have met him while I was there," Davis said. He also said he doesn't remember meeting Kaplan and would not recognize him if he saw him.
While some of the other players mentioned in The Gold Club trial have denied allegations of sexual involvement with dancers, and others have remained silent, Davis is the first to fight back in court. He said he was taking the step for his wife and family.
"It's something that I can't sit back and just let happen," he said. "It's important that I come in front of you and I say that these things are lies."
'Not an issue in my household'
Only one person has indicated any of Sicignano's allegations are true. An attorney for John Starks, a guard who once played for the New York Knicks, told CNN that Starks, if called to testify, would confirm he had sex with Gold Club strippers "a long time ago" before he "re-dedicated his life to Christ."
Davis' wife, Kendra, told reporters that "this is not an issue in my household."
"The people that really know Antonio know that this is not true," she said. "I'm not here to say that Antonio is some angel walking here on Earth. I know that Antonio has made mistakes. There's probably no greater authority than myself to tell you how imperfect Antonio is, but I just don't believe that this is one of them."
Because Davis is a public figure, his lawyers will have to show not only that Sicignano's statements are false but also that they were made with actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth -- a high legal threshold.
While Davis is "totally aware of the battle he has before him," Hall said he is confident that threshold can be met.
"Even public figures are entitled to a certain amount of, for lack of a better word, respect," he said. "Reckless disregard simply means this guy lied. This guy lied and we're going to prove he lied."
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