Originally created 07/24/01

Patrick Ewing testifies at strip club trial



ATLANTA -- Basketball star Patrick Ewing testified Monday that he twice received sexual favors from dancers at Atlanta's hottest strip club while the owner and manager watched.

Ewing, who signed as a free agent last week with the Orlando Magic, said he had visited the Gold Club about 10 times, and was given special attention when owner Steve Kaplan and manager Thomas "Ziggy" Sicignano were present.

Prosecutors say Kaplan used the lure of sex to attract pro athletes and celebrities, cheated customers on their credit card bills, and funneled cash to New York's Gambino crime family. He and six others are charged with obstruction of justice, credit card fraud, loansharking and other offenses.

Ewing said he first visited the club in 1996 when he was in Atlanta for the Olympics. He was escorted to a VIP room and Kaplan - a fan of Ewing's former team, the New York Knicks - and Sicignano, who was later fired, came in to meet him with the dancers.

"The girls danced, started fondling me, I got aroused, they performed oral sex," Ewing said. "I hung around a little bit and talked to them, then I left."

Ewing, who recently signed with the Orlando Magic after a season in Seattle, said he did not pay for the sex or anything else at the club. "I was told it was taken care of," he said.

He said a second, similar sexual encounter at the club happened in 1997 or 1998, while Kaplan and Sicignano sat beside him and watched. He said either Kaplan or Sicignano told the women, "Go ahead and take care of him."

Later Monday, a former stripper testified under a plea agreement that she performed sex acts or witnessed other dancers performing sex acts on celebrities including former NFL MVP Terrell Davis and Philadelphia 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo.

Jana Pelnis testified that Kaplan paid her $400 after she and another dancer put on a sex show for Ewing. "I was never commanded to do anything, but it was encouraged," she said.

Calls to Mutombo's agent, David Falk, were not immediately returned and Davis' agent, Neil Schwartz, declined to comment.