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NBA star Ewing testifies at strip club trial



By Brian Cabell
CNN Correspondent

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Supporting prosecutors' charges against an Atlanta strip club owner, NBA star Patrick Ewing testified Monday that he twice had sex with dancers at the club.

On both occasions, Ewing said, Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan was in the room, and the basketball player was told that payment for the dancers had been "taken care of."

Ewing's testimony supports the prosecution's allegations that Kaplan lured celebrities to his club by providing them with free food, drinks and sex. Kaplan and six others are on trial on racketeering charges that include prostitution, credit card fraud and money laundering. They deny the charges.

No sports figures are charged with any criminal wrongdoing in the case. Football star Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos is also expected to testify for the prosecution.

Kaplan is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with facilitating prostitution, extortion, money laundering, credit card fraud, bribing Atlanta police and skimming cash to pay protection money to the Gambino organized crime family.

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Patrick Ewing is to be the first professional athlete to testify in the racketeering trial of Gold Club manager Steve Kaplan. Dennis O'Hayer of CNN affiliate WXIA reports

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Among the six other defendants also accused in the alleged conspiracy is Michael DeLeonardo, an alleged captain in the Gambino family and "bagman" who is charged with taking protection payments from the club.

Kaplan denies any wrongdoing, and his attorney, Steve Sadow, has told CNN that if sex happened inside the club, it was consensual and Kaplan was unaware of it.

Prosecutor Art Leach has said in court the athletes were lured to the club to boost the club's cache as a place where superstars hang out. Football star Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos is also expected to testify for the prosecution.

Ewing visited club about 10 times

On Monday, Ewing, dressed in a dark pin-stripe suit, blue shirt and gray tie, testified for about 25 minutes Monday morning. After answering prosecutor's questions, two defense attorneys cross-examined him briefly.

He said that he has visited the Gold Club about 10 times, and twice dancers performed oral sex on him. On both occasions the owner, Kaplan, and one of the managers, Thomas "Ziggy" Sicignano, were present when he received oral sex, he said.

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He said he believes the first time was in 1996 when he was in Atlanta for the Olympic Games.

"The girls danced and started fondling me. I got aroused. ... They performed oral sex," Ewing testified.

When asked if he tipped them, Ewing said, "No, I was told it was taken care of." Afterward, "I hung around for a little while longer and then I left," he said.

The same thing happened in 1997 or 1998, he said. He was greeted by Kaplan and Sicignano, who escorted him to the VIP room for dancing and oral sex with the women.

On one of his other visits, Ewing testified, "They said if I wanted girls to come back to my hotel they'd take care of it." He said he declined that offer.

Ewing was just signed with the Orlando Magic after playing 15 years for the New York Knicks and then one year with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Former Gold Club dancer Jana Pelnis, a prosecution witness who has agreed to a plea bargain with the government, testified that she performed oral sex on basketball player Dikembe Mutombo and had a sexual encounter with Davis. She also said she witnessed a sexual encounter involving basketball star Dennis Rodman.

U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt is hearing the case.



Greta@LAW





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