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Report Links Knicks to Strippers

The Associated PressNovember 20, 1999

The NBA is awaiting more information before taking possible action following a report that strippers from an Atlanta club offered sex to New York Knicks players in Charleston, S.C., in 1997.

The report Friday in the Daily News of New York quotes federal sources close to an investigation that resulted in an indictment of 16 people in Atlanta. The charges include prostitution, racketeering, money-laundering, loan-sharking and credit-card fraud.

``We’re in touch with the appropriate authorities and monitoring the situation,″ NBA spokesman Seth Sylvan said.

Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and guard Charlie Ward refused comment before Friday night’s game in Phoenix. Spokeswoman Lori Hamamoto also declined comment.

Steven Kaplan, owner of the Gold Club in Atlanta, and 14 other defendants have pleaded innocent before a federal magistrate.

The indictment says that in April or May 1997, Kaplan and the other defendants ``transported female dancers from the Gold Club to the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, so that dancers could perform a lesbian sex show and have sex with members of a professional basketball team.″

The indictment did not identify the team, but the Knicks were in Charleston in April 1997 for a pre-playoff training camp at College of Charleston. The team has held training camps in Charleston since 1991.

The Gold Club was a virtual brothel that corrupted police, provided dancers as prostitutes for regular clients and skimmed millions from the cash flow to buy protection from the New York-based Gambino organized crime family, the government contends.

In Charleston, hotel manager Kevin Eichman told The Post and Courier that the Knicks had never been booked into the Francis Marion.

Attorneys for Kaplan, one of 11 people to enter pleas Wednesday, ``vigorously deny″ the government’s allegations and expect a ``complete vindication.″ He is free on $2 million bond.

``Mr. Kaplan will be exonerated on all charges,″ said Larry Bronson, one of his lawyers. ``We anticipate a lengthy trial and success.″

The indictment says Kaplan, who bought the Gold Club in 1994, has had a long-term relationship with the Gambino operation, once reputedly run by John Gotti. Kaplan is accused of obstructing investigations into the family by hiding and paying witnesses _ with cash, sexual favors or free club services.

Club employees arranged for dancers to have sex with celebrity clients _ including unidentified professional basketball players _ in the club’s private rooms, at local hotels or on trips outside Atlanta, the indictment charges. Two Delta Air Lines employees were charged with helping arrange those trips for reduced rates in exchange for club services and other considerations.

Delta employee Aaron Maker was one of three defendants to enter pleas Friday. The others were club employees Lyle Goodman and Russell Basile.

Yet to appear in court is Atlanta police officer John Redlinger.

The indictment says Goodman, an accountant for the club, was in charge of disputing customers’ attempts to have the false charges removed. Investigators estimate that dozens of people were overcharged.

U.S. Attorney Richard Deane said millions in cash profits from the club went unreported to evade taxes.

The Gold Club is one of Atlanta’s largest nude dancing establishments. In the early 1990s, its liquor sales made it one of the most profitable adult clubs in the country.

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