By Mike Mooneyham
July 28, 2001
Ex-WCW president Eric Bischoff made headlines last week, but they had little to do with pro wrestling. Bischoff returned to Atlanta, the former headquarters of WCW, to testify at the sensational Gold Club trial and describe his role in alleged sex shenanigans at the posh strip club.
The landmark establishment, located in Atlanta’s trendy Buckhead district, has been indicted on federal racketeering charges that include prostitution, credit card fraud, money laundering, police corruption and ties to New York’s Gambino organized crime family. In what has become one of the most titillating criminal trials in the city’s history, prosecutors contend club owner Steve Kaplan paid his dancers to provide gratis sexual favors to professional athletes and celebrities in an effort to attract a more affluent clientele, while fleecing credit card users, funneling cash to the Gambino crime family. Kaplan, who reportedly has amassed an empire valued at more than $50 million since 1987, denies the accusations and insists he is running a legitimate business.
Bischoff took the stand last week and confirmed claims made by stripper Jana “Frederique” Pelnis in previous testimony in which she claimed she performed sexual favors for Bischoff’s wife at an Atlanta hotel. Pelnis has pleaded guilty to reduced charges in return for her cooperation against fellow defendants, including club owner Kaplan, claiming she was paid for having sex with professional athletes and customers.
Bischoff admitted that he and his wife left the strip bar with Pelnis on March 21, 1999, and headed to a nearby hotel where Bischoff watched as the two women had sex.
“That is a bit of blur,” Bischoff said. Using Pelnis’ stage name, he said, “I think it was between my wife and Frederique.”
Bischoff testified that he paid the exotic dancer between $75 and $100 when he and his wife dropped her off back at the club where she had left her car. Bischoff claimed he gave her the money not for sex, but for drinks and the time she spent with the couple in a private room, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He said he believed the sex between the two women was consensual.
In earlier testimony, Pelnis claimed Bischoff’s wife slipped her $200 on the way to the hotel, and Kaplan later paid her another $800 after inquiring whether she had been treated all right and whether the Bischoffs had paid her for her time. Kaplan never asked whether she had sex, she said, and she testified that she never told Kaplan she had sex for money.
Bischoff said he and his wife gave Pelnis money to ensure she was paid her tips for dancing earlier at the club. He said that on some visits to the club, the management picked up all charges.
Bischoff said during his testimony on Wednesday that he was a bit foggy on the details after drinking as many as 20 beers that evening. “I don’t even remember driving to the hotel,” Bischoff said.
Bischoff, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., took a job as executive vice president with the Matrats promotion in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, after World Wrestling Federation Entertainment bought WCW from Turner Broadcasting System in March.
Pelnis, 29, also testified that she witnessed or performed sex acts on current pro basketball stars Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo, former NBA player Dennis Rodman, Denver Broncos and former University of Georgia running back Terrell Davis and others. Most of the celebrities reportedly were “comped” regularly at the club, meaning they didn’t have to pay for food, drink or entertainment. Pelnis said Kaplan paid her varying amounts of money after those encounters. Prosecutors argue that Gold Club managers paid strippers to have sex with the rich and famous to boost the club’s reputation as a celebrity night spot.
Ewing testified on Monday that dancers at the club performed oral sex on him on two separate occasions, both times while Kaplan was in the room. He claimed he never paid any of the dancers, but said he was told that payment for the dancers had been “taken care of.” On Wednesday Atlanta Braves outfielder Andruw Jones testified that he had been a frequent Gold Club patron and joined in the sexual escapades at a Gold Club party after being invited by club management, but claimed that the club had never offered to solicit sex for him. His sexual dalliance at the club occurred in 1996 when Jones was only 19.
Federal authorities have been investigating the Gold Club since 1996. The indictment also alleges club management flew dancers to the 1999 Super Bowl in Miami and to Las Vegas and Minneapolis for prostitution.
Former club manager Thomas “Ziggy” Sicignano, a key witness in the case against Kaplan, testified that Kaplan also arranged a sex show in April 1997 for New York Knicks rookies Dante Jones, Walter McCarty and John Wallace at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, where the team was training.
The nude dance club has attracted movie stars, politicians and famous lawyers as well as athletes. Reputedly among the long list of celebrity guests include Troy Aikman, Dan Aykroyd, George Clooney, Hulk Hogan, Mick Jagger, Larry Johnson, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Michael Jordan, David Justice, Reggie Miller, Joe Montana, Charles Oakley, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jerry Stackhouse, Donald Trump and Bruce Willis.
A defense lawyer earlier had claimed King Carl Gustaf of Sweden watched dancers in one of the club’s lavish VIP rooms during the 1996 Olympics, a charge the king’s representatives have denied.
A former club manager testified last week that Madonna once visited the club and left with a dancer, and that he also had witnessed actor Stephen Baldwin and NBA star John Starks receive sexual favors in the club. He said he did not know if any dancers were ever paid for alleged sexual favors, but he said little happened at the club without Kaplan’s permission. None of the celebrities has been charged with wrongdoing.
Federal agents raided the Gold Club in 1999, seizing boxes of records and arresting Kaplan. He was re-arrested in 2000 and accused of ordering associates “to meet, intimidate and tape record” government witnesses.