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After the thrill is gone 

Last thoughts (we think) on the Gold Club trial

When Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's contracts expire and they inevitably are replaced by, say, Jim Belushi and Tom Wopat, Gold Club trial junkies will understand how heartbroken Broadway ticket-holders feel.

After all, one week you're watching Patrick Ewing and Andruw Jones sweat it out on the witness stand. A few plea bargains later, and the hot seat is occupied by a third-string limo driver and a back-bench shooter girl.

We really can't even call it the Gold Club trial any more, since all defendants directly affiliated with the now-padlocked skin palace cut deals to salvage the rest of their summer -- and, in some cases, up to 20 summers after that, with time off for good behavior. The "Police Corruption and Extortion" trial simply doesn't have the same ring to it.

Instead of high-rolling Steve Kaplan and the camera-loving, Rodman-shagging Diva, we're left with Reginald Burney, an obscure ex-Atlanta cop who toiled in the APD's permits office. Ho hum.

And in the trial's next installment -- remember, we're only in Phase 1 of what had threatened to be a two-part, year-long, 14-defendant mega-trial -- what do we have to look forward to? No hit men. No strippers. No first-round draft picks. Just Jack Redlinger, another allegedly crooked cop who supposedly was Kaplan's inside fix-it man on the force. Wake us when it's over.

Thank goodness for Mikey Scars. Also known as Michael DiLeonardo, Scars is a genuine New York Mafia captain, according to Jerry Capeci's Gand Land, an authoritative online mob news site that's popular with G-men and gangsters alike.

Federal indictments portray Scars, 46, as something of a protection-racket account executive, with Steve Kaplan as his biggest client and John Gotti Jr. as his sales manager. DiLeonardo is blamed for shaking down strip clubs in New York, Atlanta and Boca Raton -- three places where Kaplan had sizable business interests. He's long been a target of FBI probes.

And yet, until last year's indictment, he'd never been arrested for so much as making prank phone calls. On paper, Scars' record was as clean as his helmet of dark hair.

The New York feds were unable to catch him in the net that sent Gotti Jr. and several associates up the river in 1998 on a laundry list of racketeering charges. Now the Atlanta office is struggling to put him away because everyone who can seriously put the finger on Scars has developed a case of chronic lockjaw, and for good reason. ("A toe tag? For me? You shouldn't haaaiiieee ...")

The latest wiseguy to clam up is Craig DePalma, an otherwise talkative career mobster who was hauled in front of Judge Willis Hunt Monday so he could be cited for contempt of court for refusing to squeal.

He'll get up to an extra 18 months added on to his current 8-year racketeering sentence, which he must have figured is preferable to a much longer dirt nap. Although he is refusing to face DiLeonardo in court, DePalma reportedly sang like a bird to the grand jury. U.S. Attorney Art Leach's next step is to get that testimony admitted as evidence.

DePalma allegedly partook in a mob sit-down with DiLeonardo and Kaplan that resulted in the $100,000 extortion of a Manhattan strip club, so his testimony could be considered essential to federal prosecutors.

But DePalma knows you don't get to be a Mafia capo by winning at pinochle. To see the way grown men dodge the chance to rat out DiLeonardo, you'd imagine his graduating class at Brooklyn High voted him "Most Likely to Leave a Horse Head in Your Bed."

(CL would like to take this opportunity to point out that if Mr. Scars does end up beating the rap, it will surely be due in no small part to his charming personality, his winning smile, his stylish wardrobe and, above all, his great sense of humor. In fact, in the event of an acquittal, we'd like a chance to take back all the mean things we might have said about him -- preferably from a pay phone in Sri Lanka.)

DiLeonardo certainly acted like a made guy, at least when he was in Atlanta as Kaplan's guest, according to Jeff Johnson, a former Gold Club manager who took the stand Monday.

When Scars was in the house, Johnson was instructed to clear a wide swath for him in the "Viper Room" overlooking the club floor and to make sure he received "top VIP treatment." Above all, he wasn't to be disturbed.

Once, Johnson said, senior manager Norby Calder caught him speaking to a guest Scars was bringing to his regular perch. Calder ordered Johnson outside and demanded to know why he'd opened his yap. Johnson said he thought he recognized the guy from New York.

"You don't know no-fuckin'-body. You don't recognize nobody. Shut your fuckin' mouth," Johnson mimicked Norby as having replied. Then the former Gold Club manager smiled broadly, obviously lingering in a moment of pleasant nostalgia for a time in his life when men were men, women were naked and the biggest favor someone could do was to tell you when to shut your trap.

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