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Athletes, Politician to Testify in Sensational Racketeering Case

February 28, 1994 GMT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A lawyer goes on trial this week on charges of having his wife murdered to protect a drug ring and of laundering drug money through nightclubs named for star athletes.

Fredric Tokars of Atlanta is charged in a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy that included money laundering, drug trafficking and counterfeiting, with murder, murder-for-hire and kidnapping used to protect the conspiracy.

The federal trial of Tokars and associate James Mason was moved to Birmingham because of publicity in Atlanta. Motions are to be presented Tuesday, and jury selection is scheduled for Wednesday. Testimony is expected to last at least a month.

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The government claims Tokars and Mason were part of an organization that routinely made cocaine deals worth $500,000, paid members in cash and stored bags of money in warehouses and homes.

Prosecutors plan to use testimony from such athletes as the National Basketball Association’s Dominique Wilkins and Atlanta Braves outfielder Deion Sanders in an attempt to prove Tokars and Mason laundered money through a series of secret accounts and nightclubs around Atlanta. Wilkins and Sanders are not accused of wrongdoing.

Prosecutors say Tokars, once a part-time traffic court judge in Atlanta, was so ruthless he had his wife shot to death in front of their two boys, then ages 4 and 6, because she found out too much about his dealings and wanted to divorce him.

Sara Tokars was one of four people murdered by the drug ring, Assistant U.S. Attorney Buddy Parker said.

″It’s not a very simple case,″ Parker said. ″He was a very prominent attorney, well-connected politically.″

Tokars’ lawyers say there is a good chance he will be convicted because they have not had enough time to prepare an adequate defense since he was indicted last summer.

″We’re challenging all aspects of it. We feel he is wrongly accused,″ attorney Jay Strongwater said.

Mrs. Tokars, 39, and her two sons were kidnapped Nov. 29, 1992, when they returned from a Thanksgiving vacation in Florida.

A man forced Mrs. Tokars to drive away from her home Marietta, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, and shot her in the back of the head. The car crashed, the gunman fled and the two little boys got out of the wreckage and ran for help.

Several weeks later, a cocaine addict named Curtis Rower told police he had killed Mrs. Tokars for $5,000, authorities said. The next day, Tokars attempted suicide.

Authorities say Tokars became involved in a drug ring that moved to Atlanta from Detroit in the late 1980s. Prosecutors allege he helped Mason incorporate nightclubs, where drug money was hidden and narcotics sold.

To promote one of the bars, prosecutors allege, Mason struck a licensing deal with Wilkins, who then played for the Atlanta Hawks and was one of Atlanta’s best-known athletes. The nightclub became Dominique’s Club 21.

In 1990, the name was changed to Deion’s Club 21 in a deal with Sanders, who plays for the Braves and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

Parker said last week he plans to call Wilkins and Sanders as witnesses.

Another likely witness is Eddie C. Lawrence, who pleaded guilty to lining up Rower as the triggerman. Prosecutors say Tokars enticed Lawrence by offering him part of the $1.7 million in life insurance he had on Mrs. Tokars.

Rower faces trial.