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Dino Basciano admits he’s a contract killer. He shot the sister of a federal witness in the face after watching her ferry her children to school. He shot a gambler’s wife and the mother of a rival drug dealer. He gunned down a “close friend.” He is a hijacker, arsonist, bomb-thrower, burglar, drug trafficker and gunrunner who has sold assault weapons, machine guns and silencers to “stickup guys, drug dealers, [and] mob guys,” according to his own testimony in the Gold Club trial. He is also a free man. Facing life in prison for importing 500 kilograms of cocaine, Basciano is out of prison after serving just six years. The federal government has placed him in the witness security program and recently paid him $188,000 to relocate his family. Basciano is one of a dozen convicted felons who accepted deals with federal prosecutors in Atlanta in return for testimony against Steven E. Kaplan, owner of Atlanta’s Gold Club. Such deals were part of the price that federal prosecutors paid in exchange for Kaplan’s guilty plea and those of four other defendants. Following their testimony, defense attorneys approached federal prosecutors with an offer. On Aug. 2, Kaplan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering, for which he is expected to serve, at most, three years. Three Gold Club employees also pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to report a felony. A fourth pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. All are likely to get probation. Richard H. Deane Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a news conference after the plea that — with Kaplan’s imprisonment and the forfeiture of the Gold Club — justice had been served. The club was exposed as a den of fraud and prostitution that funneled funds to organized crime, he said. And while Kaplan’s probable three-year sentence is considerably lighter than the life sentence he could have received if convicted of all charges, U.S. Justice Department officials say the prosecution sent a message to organized crime that it will be tough to make inroads into Atlanta. Federal prosecutors won’t discuss the case because U.S. Justice Department rules bar public comments in the midst of a criminal trial. However, an official with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who asked not to be identified, says the plea speaks for itself. The Gold Club was an Atlanta beachhead for the New York Mafia, that official says. “We didn’t set out to close the Gold Club or go after Kaplan. If he hadn’t had a connection with … organized crime there would not have been a case.” Federal agents and prosecutors viewed the Gold Club as gripped by the “tentacles of organized crime,” the official says. “From the beginning, we wanted to send a message to organized crime: ‘Don’t come to Atlanta.’ We wanted to send that message in the strongest possible terms … back to the Gambinos: ‘Atlanta is not a soft touch.’ ” The Gold Club trial resumed Monday for two of Kaplan’s co-defendants — retired Atlanta police officer Reginald Burney and Kaplan’s alleged Mafia handler, Michael “ Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo. Burney, who worked in the police department’s permits and licensing division, allegedly “compromised his badge” in return for soft drinks and an occasional meal at the Gold Club. In return, Burney allegedly warned club personnel of surprise police inspections, Leach has said. Defense attorneys profess to being reasonably happy with the plea deals. Still, some of them, including at least one former federal prosecutor, insist the federal government paid too high a price for the convictions. “I have never seen the government willing to give away as much in benefits or rewards for testimony or cooperation as I’ve seen in this case,” says Kaplan’s defense attorney, Steven H. Sadow. “It was known throughout the system. If you could say something about Steve Kaplan, be it true or otherwise, the government would reward you handsomely. It was almost like there was a sign-up sheet at the Atlanta penitentiary.” The government’s major witnesses committed “a veritable cornucopia of crimes,” says Bruce S. Harvey, attorney for a Gold Club dancer who pleaded guilty to a single count of knowing about but failing to report prostitution at the club. “I have never seen a case in which there was so much given to people who deserved it less … who have broken every law except for the law of averages.” DIFFERING VIEWS TO PLEAS The ink was hardly dry on the plea agreements before defense attorneys and prosecutors were offering different interpretations of Kaplan’s plea bargain. Prosecutors said that the plea was an admission that Kaplan worked hand-in-hand with organized crime. Defense attorneys were emphatic that the deal made no mention of the mob. Incorporated into the legal language of the plea, according to officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, are references to Kaplan’s 1999 indictment, which defines the club owner’s criminal enterprise as including “certain members of the Gambino organized crime family” in New York. The indictment also claims that Kaplan’s crimes were intended to enrich the Gambino family. When Kaplan entered his plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney and lead prosecutor Arthur W. Leach repeatedly referred to the agreement as defined by “the language set out in the indictment.” And in a public statement after Kaplan pleaded, Deane called the Gold Club “the center of a corrupt and fraudulent scheme … which provides funds to organized crime.” But defense attorneys aren’t conceding the mob link. They note there is no specific language in the plea agreement linking Kaplan or his employees to organized crime. The criminal activity in which Kaplan admitted participating doesn’t extend beyond the Gold Club, says Sadow. “There is no admission of any criminal activity for which any witness testified that he was involved with the Gambino family.” The details of the plea agreement are complex, with conditions that appear to favor both Kaplan and the government. Included in Kaplan’s plea is an admission that Gold Club dancers, with his knowledge, engaged in prostitution, and that club employees inflated the credit card bills of drunken club patrons. He also admitted participating in an airline ticket fraud with the help of two Delta Air Lines employees. In addition to three years in prison, Kaplan faces a $5 million cash forfeiture, and as much as $300,000 in restitution to Delta and defrauded customers who testified against him. He also has surrendered to federal marshals his stake in the Gold Club and the club’s business and liquor licenses. GUILTY PLEAS FROM CORPORATIONS Kaplan also entered guilty pleas on behalf of the Gold Group Inc. and MSB Inc.�two corporations he established to hold the club’s stock and handle its finances. Kaplan is president of the Gold Group Inc. His wife, Mona, who lives with his two children in Oyster Bay, N.Y., is president of MSB. Kaplan entered the corporate RICO pleas in return for a promise of corporate probation. The effect: The corporations more than likely will sidestep stiff financial penalties. In return, federal prosecutors agreed that the U.S. Justice Department, including U.S. Attorneys in other jurisdictions, will not prosecute Kaplan or his wife on other federal charges, unless they involve “death or serious bodily injury.” Kaplan, in effect, will be given a “clean slate,” says Sadow. Federal prosecutors also have agreed not to seek forfeiture of other businesses owned by Kaplan, including Penn Station Books and Mona’s Pizza in New York, a smoke shop, catering service, gourmet deli, Kaplan’s interests in a chain of smoothie franchises, his Dunwoody home or the family home in Oyster Bay. Other defendants who pleaded guilty with Kaplan have cut deals for smaller crimes. Kaplan’s chief financial officer, Larry Gleit — originally charged with racketeering and money-laundering — pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to keep accurate tax records for some of the club’s employees, primarily waitresses and dancers. He probably will get 12 months’ probation and 40 hours of community service, according to Gleit’s attorney, Donald F. Samuel. Samuel calls it “about the same [penalty] as peeing in a federal park.” Two of Kaplan’s managers and a dancer, in return for what defense attorneys say was the promise of probation, pleaded guilty to a single count each of felony misprision, or failure to report a crime. Nine other defendants, including eight who still were awaiting trial, have been offered similar deals that carry little or no prison time. PROBATION STILL UP TO JUDGE Federal officials say there is no certainty that the government will recommend probation for the Gold Club defendants who have pleaded guilty. “I think it’s within the court’s discretion,” one official says. And U.S. District Judge Willis B. Hunt Jr. may, in fact, hand down probated sentences. “But it’s not a dead certain thing that’s what he’s going to do.” Prosecutors note that most of the government witnesses with criminal records who testified against Kaplan already had received deals in return for their testimony in other cases. A U.S. Justice Department official in Atlanta says none of the violent felons who won reduced sentences for cooperating with the federal government were indicted or prosecuted in Atlanta. Instead, they already had made deals in other jurisdictions to testify against the Mafia before Atlanta prosecutors contacted them about Kaplan. “The allegation that we made all sorts of deals with them is just wrong,” the official says. “Every federal defendant, in order to get a break, had to go back in front of the judge who sentenced them first.” Cooperation is, in fact, somewhat of a gamble for defendants seeking less prison time, the official insists. “It may or may not happen. The other district can tell us to pound sand. They don’t have to move for a reduction. We don’t have that in our control. … [But], to be fair, in 95 percent of the cases, if we go in and make a pitch, usually the other district will agree with it.” In at least five cases, Leach or Deane has written letters to fellow prosecutors in Chicago, New York and Florida seeking to reduce prison sentences for people with a record of drug deals or violent crime who testified before the Atlanta grand jury during the Gold Club investigation and also agreed to testify at Kaplan’s trial. Three other witnesses expect prosecutors to write letters on their behalf now that they have testified, defense attorneys say. And three witnesses have had their cooperation with federal authorities in Atlanta folded into plea or sentence reduction motions in other federal jurisdictions. In four more cases, Leach made personal appearances at sentencing or sentence reduction hearings on behalf of witnesses who testified in Atlanta, according to defense attorneys. Leach also intervened in Alabama and in Chicago on behalf of a former Gold Club dancer — whom he had subpoenaed to testify — who was charged with possession and sale of the illegal drug ecstacy. As a result, Sadow says, she was given probation on those offenses. In addition, says Harvey, “every single dancer, every single employee who cooperated and went before the grand jury was offered and given total immunity,” including those who were suspected of committing the same crimes with which Kaplan and other Gold Club employees had been charged. Defense attorneys estimate that between 100 and 200 people received immunity letters from federal prosecutors for testifying against Kaplan. Jerome J. Froelich Jr., a former federal prosecutor who is defending Atlanta police Officer John D. “Jack” Redlinger, a Gold Club defendant who has yet to go to trial, snorts at suggestions that felons, or anyone else, who testify for the government do so without any understandings, real or implied. “That is spin, total spin control,” he says. “Everybody knows what’s going on here. Everybody in the system knows what’s going on. Do you think those guys walked down here and testified because they didn’t know what was going to happen? … Everybody knows they are going to get time off. You think they are up there singing like that if they didn’t know that? “To say anything else is disingenuous,” he says. Federal inmates even have a name for that kind of deal. “It’s known as ‘getting on the bus,’ ” Froelich says. “ You’re going downtown to testify.” Although the U.S. Attorney claimed victory after Kaplan pleaded guilty, Sadow notes that his client would have accepted a similar plea agreement in February — two months before the trial began. At that time, Kaplan would have accepted two years in prison and a financial penalty if his employees received probation deals, Sadow says. At the time, the government insisted on a three-year prison sentence, and a $7.5 million cash forfeiture as well as the Gold Club. But federal prosecutors would not agree to recommend leniency for Kaplan’s co-defendants unless all 18 named in the indictment entered guilty pleas and became cooperating federal witnesses, and unless some went to prison. Defense attorneys say they rejected the offer. Sadow says the Gold Club trial wasn’t really about Kaplan, but about Mafia boss John Gotti and his son, John A. “Junior” Gotti, who headed the Gambino crime family. The government hoped that Kaplan, if squeezed, would testify against the Gottis. “It was always about John Gotti,” he says. Sadow says the FBI first approached Kaplan about becoming a government informant against Junior Gotti in 1996. “They attempted to make him a deal he couldn’t refuse,” Sadow says. ” ‘Cooperate against John Gotti Jr. or we’re going to have to take a look at you.’ Kaplan kind of shrugged it off.” Sadow says the government kept its word. After Gotti went to prison two years ago, “The focus became purely Steve Kaplan.” Says Harvey: “I think this whole case was prosecuted in the hopes that everybody in this case would ultimately turn and roll when faced with the awesome weight of the federal government and the indictment and it would go up the chain, and it would lead to the prosecution of others.” What did the government get? he asks. “Not a whole lot.”

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