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Opening Chapter of the Gold Club Trial

Aired May 16, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Allegations of prostitution, charges of organized crime, and a lawyer's defense table dance all part of the opening chapter at a federal case in Atlanta.

Today, on BURDEN OF PROOF, an FBI special agent takes the stand in the government's case against a stripper, a club owner, and five other defendants.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

A trial involving alleged mob activity and prostitution in an Atlanta strip club turned theatrical yesterday. Defense lawyer Bruce Harvey climbed on the defense table and imitated what strippers call a table dance. Lawyers are very good at that, you know. Harvey says...

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: At table dancing or calling it that?

COSSACK: Well, maybe calling it that.

Harvey says he was only showing that his client is just a successful dancer at the Gold Club and not a prostitute as the prosecution alleges.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gold Club dancer Jacklyn Bush, club owner Steve Kaplan, and five other defendants are being tried in the case in a federal court. The government claims Kaplan sold sex at the Atlanta strip club and funneled money to the mob. Yesterday, prosecutors questioned an FBI special agent who's an expert in organized crime.

COSSACK: Joining us today from Chicago is James Wagner, former FBI supervisory special agent. From Atlanta, we're joined by Jerry Froelich, attorney for Jack Redlinger, who is a defendant in the case, but his case was severed from this trial.

VAN SUSTEREN: Here in Washington: Lynne Burress (ph), former federal prosecutor Glenn Ivey, and Casey Marino (ph). In our back row, Tom Fox (ph), Timothy Parker (ph), and Kimberly Obradovich (ph).

Also joining us from outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta is CNN investigative correspondent Art Harris. Art, take me back and tell me what happened in this opening statement. A lawyer on the defense table had a rather intriguing way to open a case.

ART HARRIS, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the prosecutor certainly opened with a bang. He explained to the jury that this was a strip club owner who used the lure of sex to attract a very high-profile clientele of superstar athletes who came to the club, created a buzz, and that generated huge interest. Other people came, put down their American Express cards and, at the best year, rang up $20 million in revenues.

And the government charges credit-card fraud, extortion, money laundering, and skimming from this money to pay an organized-crime family, the Gambinos, protection money through a mob capo who right now is sitting in this Russell building, the courtroom -- federal courtroom on the 17th floor here in Atlanta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Give me -- give me a little background on the club owner Steve Kaplan, one of the defendants.

HARRIS: Steve Kaplan has really been a stealth businessman in many ways. He began in New York with a nightclub, opened it there, moved to Florida. His father had a business in Penn Station. His brother runs a newspaper stand in New York City.

He lives on Long Island in a mil lion-dollar home about -- oh, just a few-minute drive from John A. Gotti, who is the son of the John Gotti jailed-for-life don in prison who ran the Gambino crime family until his son, John A. Gotti, was appointed and then went to jail himself. So...

COSSACK: Art -- Art, tell us a little bit about what the defense did yesterday. I mean, they -- they really came out charging. We have -- we know that one lawyer was giving his version of a table dance. We know that there charges of anti-Semitism racism. What -- what's the defense doing here?

HARRIS: Well, Roger, you know, you, Greta, and I both were in the middle of O.J., and it seems that they are taking definitely a chapter from the play book.

This is Atlanta's dream team of super lawyers, and they are throwing everything out there, accusing the prosecution and warning jurors that the prosecution's going to bring in a cadre of convicted felons, some mobsters in witness protection, who have been paid for their testimony and that -- by appearing here, it's a get-out-of-jail- free card.

Steve Sadow who has emerged as perhaps the leading high-profile lawyer at the moment in Atlanta is the attorney who helped his client get off, won an acquittal verdict in the Ray Lewis trial. He is -- stunned people who were sitting there when he said that Kaplan was targeted because he was a, quote, "Jew from New York."

Now I don't know where that came from, but this city is a very liberal city in the deep south, has a strong Jewish community, and they are considered contributory citizens and have never been singled out for prosecution, except in 1913 when Jewish businessman Leo Frank was lynched, and -- in the Mary Phagan murder. So that was quite a surprise.

Then you had Bruce Harvey stun everybody, turned the jury room -- the courtroom into a bit of a circus by jumping up onto the defense table and using it as a makeshift stage like the stage at the Gold Club, and he began doing a table dance, wiggling his hips, and as he began to peel off his Jacket, Judge Willis Hunt, who was Sam Nunn's law partner at one point, has been a PI and an FBI agent, so he knows his way around life and the courtroom, he put a stop to the show and ordered Mr. Harvey to step down.

VAN SUSTEREN: Art -- Art, I mean, it seems, though, listening to, you know, the evidence the prosecution, the evidence the defense has -- is the defense theory in a nutshell that the United States attorney's office is putting morality on trial, that there was no illegal conduct but that because it is sort of unsavory conduct that it's -- it's a question morality versus legality?

HARRIS: That's a very good point, Greta. Sex is, of course, the charge. Prostitution is a charge that they have been focusing on perhaps to divert attention from some of the more serious charges of extortion, witness intimidation, skimming money to pay the Gambino crime family, but down south --

And this appeared in jury selection. They were very successful, the defense, in weeding out jurors who showed a heavy religious belief, and that would mean against dancing, against strip clubs, against anything that would evoke a sense of immorality or amorality.

The jury is now composed of one man who actually worked on a building who was owned by a mob figure in Miami, he testified, and another who has actually been to the Gold Club. So a friendly jury.

But it's -- by putting morality on trial, you know, you take attention away from other things, and you try to put the idea in jurors' minds that convicted mobsters who are expected to take the stand for the government are going to be lying their way to the bank.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. We're going to take a quick break.

Up next, why has John Gotti, Jr., been moved from a New York cell to an Atlanta cell? Find out when we come back.


Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was supposed to be put to death this morning. Instead, he met with his lawyers to map out his next legal step. McVeigh's execution has been delayed until June 11.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAN SUSTEREN: In Atlanta, a strip club owner, a striptease dancer, and five other defendants are being accused of scores of charges, including prostitution, credit-card fraud, extortion, and money laundering. Federal prosecutors claim that Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan is what's called an earner for the Gambino crime family, trading mob protection for money.

Jerry, let me go to you. What do you make of all the activities by the defense attorneys and getting a little slapped down by the judge for the dancing on the table?

JERRY FROELICH, ATTORNEY FOR JACK REDLINGER: Well, they're just trying to get the jurors' attention and also distract them a little bit.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think they got the jury's attention. They got Roger's and mine as well.

FROELICH: Right. And it's -- you know, there's been interesting side stories going on. The FBI agent in charge of this case, Mark Sewell, tangled with Sadow, physically approached him and threatened him.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Sadow is the lawyer for Steve Kaplan. He...

FROELICH: The -- right.

VAN SUSTEREN: The FBI agent supposedly also threw a videotape at the defense attorney...

FROELICH: Yeah, that happened yesterday.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... outside the jury. Right.

FROELICH: Yeah. Well, that happened yesterday, and -- but the other confrontation happened months ago, and that -- he's got a quick temper, and that's going to play into this, and I think they're going to go after him on the stand, too.

And there's a lot of pressure in that courtroom. The prosecution, I think, has brought a much larger case than they ever should have, and there's -- this has become high profile, and now the pressure is on to win, and you're going to see a lot of explosions in that courtroom, and the -- and they're going to keep -- the defense team is going to keep the pressure on the prosecution.

There's going to be a lot of objections, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on them, and it's going to be -- it's going to take a lot longer than people think. I was in a trial, and the judge said I barked my way out. I'm a little bulldog, he said, but I think it's going to go six months.

COSSACK: Jim, the notion that an FBI agent kind of loses his cool is -- is highly unusual. I can tell from my experience in practicing that's just something that's don't happen. Your reactions to seeing this agent who, apparently, has gotten a little personally involved in this case, not that defense lawyers can't get under your skin.

JAMES WAGNER, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, they can from time to time, but you still have to maintain all of your senses about you. I don't know the details. I don't know the facts involved here, and so I don't want to speculate on exactly what transpired between the agent and the attorney.

But, obviously, there is no reason for an agent to throw anything. I don't know about the idea of a threat. I hadn't heard about that before, but both of the activities would be certainly disappointing to current bureau officials, I'm sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah. You know what, though? I've got to tell you, though, in the heat of a trial, if no one's -- I mean, lawyers -- oftentimes, they take -- they exchange barbs. I mean, so what if they got a videotape thrown at him? He shouldn't have done it, if, indeed, it happened, but it's not fatal, and I've sort of been tempted to throw things myself once in a while.

Go ahead, Glenn.

GLENN IVEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, but the theory here at least -- at least one that defense counsel argued is government overreaching, that they're out to get their clients, and that type of behavior, I think, can be used by the defense to feed that argument. Here's an FBI agent that's out of control.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah, but the jury's never going to see -- this is -- this is outside the jury, and God knows what the lawyers have been doing to sort of needle those agents. I've needled them myself. I mean, you want them to...

COSSACK: Oh, I find that hard to believe.


IVEY: Well, I think the -- I really think the defense should try and see if they can bring that in on a cross-examination.

WAGNER: Well, if I could...


COSSACK: Jim, let me just -- go head, Jim.

WAGNER: If I could just interrupt one second here and emphasize one thing that Greta just pointed out. It was outside of the presence of the jury...

COSSACK: right.

WAGNER: ... and, therefore, should have no immediate effect on the case as it's going in in chief. The other point that was made is a very valid point, too, is that sometimes defense attorneys do this on purpose in order to try to shake and rattle a witness before he gets on the stand. VAN SUSTEREN: And, Jim, let me tell you what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I've seen prosecutors do the same thing. I've seen prosecutors do all sorts of things, including wining and dining people to get them to say sort of -- so they're smooth talking on the witness stand. So this is a two-way street, Jim, and...

COSSACK: Yeah, Jim. Jim, let me jump in. Like what do you know about Jim -- about -- about young Gotti being brought down from New York to Atlanta as a possible witness?

WAGNER: Again, I have -- I have no information at all on the current status of Mr. Gotti or the reason for his transfer. Keep in mind I retired a year ago, and I'm not involved in this prosecution in any way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jerry, give me a little...

FROELICH: Roger, I might talk to the...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... idea, Jerry, on this whole idea of -- is there any way the defense can sort of slide in this out of the jury seeing between the FBI agent and the defense attorney? Can you think of sort of -- some sort of relevant way to slip this one in?

FROELICH: Well, I think there is. I think you can show as biased -- the agent's got a quick temper, and I...

VAN SUSTEREN: But the actual incident of tossing something, if it did occur outside the jury, how do you slip that one in before the jury that the agent's done that?

FROELICH: Well, because I would just ask him. "And you don't" -- "You don't like" -- you know, "You don't like Mr. Kaplan, do you? In fact, you don't like his lawyers. And isn't it true that you threatened Mr. Sadow?" I wouldn't -- if -- I would do it -- have another lawyer do it rather than Sadow...

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what, though?

FROELICH: ... and I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: I've got to tell if you the threat -- if the thing had been tossed at the defendant, I think you'd have a shot at it, but having it tossed at the lawyer, and whether or not the witness likes the lawyer, I think, is harder one to slide in before the jury.

FROELICH: Well, I don't know about that, and...

WAGNER: But you need to understand the background...

FROELICH: He threatened them.

WAGNER: ... about this FBI agent.

FROELICH: I mean, he asked them to step outside the courtroom. He --he told Sadow -- he was on the stand. Sadow cross-examined him, and it was in a contentious bond hearing where the agent was moving to hold them without bond, and the judge ruled against the agent, really kind -- found that the agent had overblown things and led to -- misled the court, and -- and the agent was furious. He came off, and he told Sadow, "Step outside," you know. Sadow held his cool and said, you know, "I'm not going out," and he got nose -- the agent got nose to nose with him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that may be -- you know, I think the agent may find himself in a little hot water, disciplined at Justice or even an assault charge.

COSSACK: Life will go on.

Art, I hear you trying frantically to get in and say something. So let's get.

HARRIS: Yeah, I'm trying -- I'm trying to tell you about the agent. I -- I believe he's referring to Mark Sewell. Isn't that correct?

FROELICH: Sewell. That's correct.

HARRIS: OK. Mark Sewell is a former in the Marine Corps, been in nine years. He's now an FBI agent, father of two small children, and he has been personally handling the Gold Club strippers who are now going to testify for the government.

COSSACK: Maybe you want to rephrase that he's going to personally -- maybe you want to rephrase that, that he's been personally handling them. Talk to me about why young Gotti...


COSSACK: Why has young Gotti been brought down as a...

HARRIS: ... accused of.

COSSACK: Why has young Gotti been brought down as a witness? Art?

HARRIS: OK. Because -- Gotti has been brought down because they would like to get him on the stand, at the least have him plead the Fifth to set up the possibility of then bringing in prior statements, i.e. tape recordings, wiretaps that link Gotti allegedly with Mr. Kaplan, and perhaps to show -- I mean, if they put him on the stand, could he refuse to say, "Where do you live?" "Oyster Bay." "Are you familiar with Mr. Kaplan?"

VAN SUSTEREN: I think that's a stretch, trying to bring in Gambino -- I mean, to bring in Gotti just to say, "I didn't" -- "I won't talk."

COSSACK: You know why they're bringing in Gotti.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I know why they're bringing in Gotti, to smear the defense and make it look worse than...

COSSACK: All right. Let's take a break. All right. Originally -- we're stopping now. Originally, 17 defendants were named in the Gold Club case, but only seven are facing trial. Why is that? Well, we'll find out when we come back.



Q: Why was a juror dismissed from the trial of a reputed mob boss in Philadelphia on Monday?

A: The juror's anonymity was compromised after she reportedly was approached outside the courtroom by someone who claimed to know the defendant.


COSSACK: The U. S. attorney's office in Atlanta originally named 17 defendants in the Gold Club case. A former club manager is cooperating with prosecutors, and a former dancer has pleaded guilty and will be a government witness, also. To keep the trial from lasting too long, all but seven of the remaining defendants have been severed from the trial.

All right. Let me -- let me talk to you, Jim, in terms of how important it is to have witnesses in this case, and, oftentimes, the witnesses are perhaps not the most savory, ones who have pleaded guilty, getting deals from the government, but you need them, right?

WAGNER: Absolutely. The government would always prefer to have the homemaker and the minister testify, but those aren't the people who typically get involved financially with the mob, and they're not the mob people. You have to utilize the people who have been there and have done it and are willing to cooperate for whatever reason. Sometimes...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask...

WAGNER: Sometimes there would be agreements made for a reduction of sentence, but I don't think anybody has a get-out-of-jail card. I think that's misnomer for this type of cooperation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Glenn, when you get caught with the goods, though, if you get any reduction time, it's like get out of jail, and sometimes, you prosecutors -- you give them the world in order to do that. How important is corroborating evidence when you've got someone who is very unsavory who is testifying for the prosecution?

IVEY: Well, it's critical because that -- that provides some credibility to the testimony, and as much as you can, you want the testimony to match up with whatever the corroborating evidence is, like tapes or testimony from other people who have credibility.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you know what? The interesting thing, too, is that with prosecutors, when they have witnesses like this, is that, oftentimes, what you expect you're going to hear -- when they get on the witness stand and sort of take a look around the courtroom and see some of the people, suddenly, you get some surprises, don't you?

IVEY: Well, certainly a case with this level of -- I mean, mob allegations and the like -- yeah, I wouldn't be shocked if some of the witnesses spun the prosecution.

COSSACK: Jerry, in -- Jerry, in terms of being -- of representing your client in this situation, now your client has -- his trial has been postponed, but I know that you must be privy to what the -- the main defense is in this case. What is it, just that this -- so what? This is just the way life is?

FROELICH: Yeah, that it isn't organized crime and that, of course, you're going to have sex when you have nude women and alcohol together. I mean -- and they're -- they're going to fight it on there was a lot of these where there's no payment made and that this is all trumped up, and I think they're going to have a very difficult time tying Kaplan with Gotti, a real difficult time.

There are tapes which show just the reverse, and I think they're going to whittle it down. I think the most difficult part of the trial for the defense will be the credit-card fraud. But I think it's -- when -- the problem the prosecution will have -- I believe it's overcharged, and once you can get some reasonable doubt into the jury, that tends to seep into everything, and I think that's what they're going to try to do, show...



VAN SUSTEREN: What about this sort of -- these pro athletes that are called to -- that are at least on the witness list for the government, including Patrick Ewing and some others? I mean, what -- what are they going to add?

FROELICH: Well, they're going to -- they're -- that's to spice it up. They're going to bring in a lot of the Knicks and a lot of the pro athletes to say that they had sex with the women, but there's not going to be any money. The defense on that is going to be, of course, women want to have sex with professional athletes hoping they'll fall in love with them or to be able to say, "I was with a professional athlete."

VAN SUSTEREN: But isn't that critical -- I mean, isn't it critical that the athlete actually say that it was an exchange of sex for money, and if the athlete does do that, the athlete is also confessing to a crime on the stand. So the athlete's going to have to get immunity in order to make that statement. Right or wrong?

FROELICH: Right. No, that's right, but they -- I didn't believe the athletes are going to say that, and the prosecution's going to argue that Kaplan tried -- encouraged these women or told the women to have sex in order to build up the high profile of the Gold Club. The Gold Club was a place where a lot of famous athletes, actors, and -- and other famous people went on a regular basis, and that was the image it projected, and that's what's the prosecution's arguing, that in order to project that image, they had to have sex to bring people in.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, this is a -- very early on in this trial, but that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Tonight on THE POINT, is the FBI unmanageable? Outgoing FBI Director Louis Freeh is grilled on Capitol Hill about the mistakes that ultimately resulted in the Timothy McVeigh execution delay. Tonight, reaction from members of Congress.

COSSACK: And today on TALK BALK LIVE, is Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift doing her job? Send your e-mail about the Commonwealth's maternal controversy to Bobbie Battista, and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

We're going to be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. I will not do my table dance then or today.

VAN SUSTEREN: He's said he would during break.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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