Prosecutors in the Gold Club trial are fighting an uphill battle to overcome what sophisticated, erudite legal experts term the "Duh Factor."
What is this arcane forensic principle, you ask, in terms that we readers without formal schooling in the intricacies of jurisprudence can grasp?
Well, to cite an easy-to-understand example from outside the courtroom, consider the lead story on the front of last Wednesday's AJC, which informed us in 1,200 words and numerous charts and graphics that gay couples are more likely to be found residing in Midtown than, say, Kennesaw. This is the Duh Factor at work.
So, how about the notion that a big-time athlete would willingly pa-tronize a place where he was treated to free drinks and complimentary blowjobs? Duh.
Or that an oversexed young lady with a snootful of blow might be excited by the opportunity to provide such a service to some guy she saw on ESPN the night before? Duh.
Or that some schmuck who drunkenly hands his credit card over to a waitress at a strip club would later find cause for alarm when his wife opens his MasterCard statement? Duh.
Or that a super-hot stripper who pulls down thousands of dollars a night would be allowed to bend the house rules, while a less-attractive co-worker might be handed a pink slip and cab fare severance? Double duh.
Fact is -- and this is something of a "duh" in itself -- Assistant U.S. Attorney Art Leach has to convince a rapidly dwindling jury not only that considerable hanky panky took place behind the neon-draped cinderblock walls of the Gold Club, but that some of those acts broke serious laws.
In the sex capital of the South, a town so wedded to its adult-entertainment industry that strip clubs exist peaceably among Waffle Houses and Wal-Marts, jaded Atlantans have a tendency to assume that VIP-room escapades, however randy, are on a different plane from the working girls down on Ponce.
And while sports fans snicker over Andruw Jones' admission that he spent nearly as much time frolicking in a Gold Room as he spent swinging in the batting cage, the slugger won't find any fewer autograph-seekers waiting for him the next time he steps from the dugout.
So far, none of the celebrities and professional libertines who co-mingled behind the closed -- and often guarded -- doors of the Gold Club's storied mezzanine has said that he or she considered those actions to equate to prostitution, even when money changed hands.
So when former dancer Jana Pelnis joined in giving head to ex-Hawk and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo and administered a hand job to one-time Dawg Terrell Davis, then accepted a hefty tip from appreciative club owner Steve Kaplan, was Kaplan guilty of illegal pandering or was he simply making sure his big-name guests were shown a good time?
Pelnis, whose publicity photos bear no resemblance to the dour German governess look she affected last week on the witness stand, was apparently the Gold Club's pinch hitter when it came to servicing celebrities. When some guy went upstairs to celebrate a Super Bowl win or a play-off berth, Pelnis would be called into action, often in tandem with defendant Jacklyn "Diva" Bush. (According to testimony, if Pelnis was the pinch hitter, then Bush was the batting coach.)
Leach will have to prove that such shenanigans, accompanied by Kaplan's coyly euphemistic directive for dancers to "take care of" Davis and other star athletes and celebs who frequented his club, amount to an ongoing sex-for-money scheme that effectively qualified the Gold Club as a house of prostitution for the rich and famous.
That task was made more difficult last week by former assistant manager Anthony King, a prosecution witness who nonetheless testified that his former bosses, co-defendants Norbert Calder and Roy Cicola, were vigilant on their watch in ensuring that the girls didn't get too cozy with Gold Room clients. (How does one describe that on a resumé: "My duties included supervising nookie patrol"?)
Sporting a military-style haircut, the late-twentysomething King explained that Norby bore the heavy responsibility of determining -- sometimes in only a few high-pressure seconds -- whether the accused blowjob-giver was foxy enough to get off with a stern talking-to and a few hours' suspension.
King also said it could be tough at times to tell who was violating the house rules against being caught giving sexual favors and who was actually correctly discharging the duties of a Gold Room shooter girl, who drinks colored water from a test tube lodged in the patron's lap.
Leach also will be tasked to refute the defense's portrait of allegedly defrauded club patrons as wannabe playboys who got carried away on their big night out and are desperately trying to dodge monster credit card bills and save their marriages and jobs.
South Georgia businessman Todd Arline testified Monday that he was charged $10,700 for a three-hour visit to the Gold Club in which he bought only eight cocktails and never saw the inside of a Gold Room. He claimed his signature had been forged on a membership form and that, although he had signed three confusingly tabulated receipts totaling $3,100, he assumed he was being charged $31 since all he'd bought were the drinks.
Then defense attorney Steve Sadow set him up for a rim shot:
Sadow: You made three mistakes, didn't you?
Arline: I made one big one, that's for sure.
But Leach, a clean-cut G-man with the bearing of a network anchor, has an even trickier job in linking the Gold Club to the Gambino clan without direct testimony identifying Kaplan's chum and co-defendant Michael DiLeonardo as a made man in the New York mob.
So far, convicted wiseguy Craig DePalma has refused to testify in Atlanta about the fabled Mafia debating contest he won with Kaplan over whether the owners of Manhattan's Scores strip club should be iced or extorted.
Presumably, DePalma is resisting because squealing can be detrimental to one's health, but he's the guy who can finger DiLeonardo as Kaplan's mob go-between.
"It's still early," says Leach, who plans to get DePalma's testimony to the jury on paper if not in person in order to nail DiLeonardo and earn a racketeering conviction.
He does have one factor on his side: the idea that a snappy-dressing Italian-American from Brooklyn nicknamed Mikey Scars with no discernible day job and plenty of pocket money might be expected to have a nodding acquaintance with a certain John Gotti.
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