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Sayonara, Stevie


Former Gold Club impresario Steve Kaplan sniffled like a stripper whose implants are being recalled last week when he was handed down a 16-month prison sentence for credit-card fraud, the final act of a front page trial that had heated up Atlanta's summer and showed why pro athletes' marriages rarely last longer than cream cheese under a heat lamp.

Kaplan also ponied up the rest of the $5 million fine he'd promised to pay the federal government as part of a plea bargain in August; eight co-defendants were given suspended sentences.

But from U.S. District Court Judge Willis Hunt's comments, a cynical observer might have surmised that Kaplan's real crime was in pleading guilty instead of fighting the charges. Hunt hinted that he didn't believe federal prosecutor Art Leach's team had convincingly linked Kaplan's operations to organized crime or had proven that the Gold Club was fronting a prostitution ring.

Three of the former jurors who had to sit through three months of repetitious, salty and fitfully amusing testimony, yet who never had the chance to return a verdict, showed up to comfort Kaplan with hugs, perhaps in a variation on the Stockholm Syndrome.

And, of course, the fallen entrepreneur's biggest fan also was on hand to console him; WSB reporter Lynn Harrison treated him to one final squeeze before Kaplan gets sent up the river. Outside the courtroom, the Gold Club's star strumpet, Jackie "Diva" Bush, was touting a new tell-all book she is shopping to publishers; ironic when one considers that during the trial, she hadn't seen anything.

In delivering the sentence -- far shy of the three years prosecutors had sought -- Judge Hunt offered recognition of Kaplan's charity efforts and his work with the poor, but it's unknown if that included any former customers.

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