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Monday, February 23, 2009

Strip-club arson case gets seamy – UPDATED

Arson. Black-market firearms. Cocaine trafficking. Armed robbery. Police extortion. Naked ladies.

Last week’s federal conspiracy trial of strip-club careerist Boyd Smith felt like a crash course in two-bit criminality, coupled with a seminar in sleaze.

Smith, the former manager of Platinum 21 on Cheshire Bridge Road, is charged with having schemed with two colleagues to torch the competing Club Onyx in early 2007. Each hour of court testimony peeled back a new layer of scuzz.

Boyd worked for Howard “Bit” Thrower, who oversaw Platinum 21 and Flashers in Sandy Springs on behalf of owner Harry “Mario” Freese. Thrower, a bear of a man who sounds like Kris Kristofferson with a mescal hangover, is an accused drug-runner-turned FBI informant who helped the feds nail two Fulton County police officers for shaking down Freese.

After Club Onyx began taking much of Platinum 21’s business in late 2006, Thrower paid $5,000 to his head bouncer, Sandeo Dyson, to burn down the rival club. Thrower later flipped on his co-workers, wearing a wire while Dyson discussed a plan to raid a drug stash house at gunpoint to steal 25 kilos of cocaine.

Dyson, an army medic stationed in Dahlonega, subsequently pleaded guilty to arson, while four of his fellow soldiers pleaded guilty to plotting a home invasion.

Smith, by contrast, seems disappointingly like the small fish. He’s accused of conspiring to commit arson, but it’s Thrower and Dyson who should be facing the serious time. In fact, before he quit Platinum 21 a few months after the fire, Boyd was a model strip-club manager, according to Thrower.

“Boyd had the pulse and heartbeat of the club,” Thrower testified. “He was big on customer service.”

UPDATE: Smith was found guilty of conspiring to burn Club Onyx, causing about $1.8 million in property damage and lost revenue. His sentencing is scheduled for May 11.

To view Scott Henry's 2001 reporting on the Gold Club, Atlanta's most storied strip joint, go here. And here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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