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Strip Club Defendants Testify

July 10, 2001

ATLANTA (AP) _ A customer of the strip club whose owner is at the center of a racketeering trial testified Tuesday that he was stunned by the $25,900 tab for the five hours he spent inside.

Dwight A. Kent, an Atlanta financial services worker, said he was in a private club room of the Gold Club with two dancers during his 1998 visit and expected a bill of about $5,000.

When Kent returned to dispute the bill days later, he said club owner Steve Kaplan asked him: ``Did you think the champagne, the girls and the food were free?″

``I said, `No, but $27,000?‴ Kent testified.

Under cross-examination, he admitted that he was very drunk and did not read the bills before signing them. Kent said he paid about $24,000 of the bill after being pressured by the credit card companies.

Prosecutors say Kaplan used the lure of sex to attract professional athletes and celebrities while cheating customers to funnel cash to New York’s Gambino crime family. He and six others are charged with obstruction, credit card fraud, loan sharking and other charges.

The club grosses about $20 million a year. It has five bars, a mini-restaurant and $500 bottles of champagne. Prosecutors say Kaplan took advantage of customers like Kent when they were most vulnerable, getting them to sign outrageous credit card bills.

The defense has argued that their clients were simply smart businessmen.

Kent admitted he had made a mistake and was not a helpless victim.

``I’m a big boy,″ he said. ``I went there, had too much to drink and spent more than I intended to spend.″

Another witness, John Berger, testified he took a $13,000 charge for a tab he thought would be about $1,000 for a night at the club in 1998.

Berger, who claimed to be the chief executive of a Chicago marketing firm, said he signed twice for a credit card bill when a dancer told him his first receipt had been damaged by a machine.

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