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Trial: Strip-club rivals torched Club Onyx, prosecutors say

Georgia- Club Onyx’s business flourished in late 2006 immediately after the strip club began catering to an African-American clientele.

But within weeks, the Cheshire Bridge Road club was gutted by a fire that closed it down for six months and caused $1.8 million in damages and lost sales.

This week, Boyd Smith, the former general manager of rival club Platinum 21, stands trial on conspiracy charges for the Jan. 2, 2007, arson.

Prosecutors, who hope to rest their case on Friday, say that as Club Onyx’s sales soared, Platinum 21’s revenue tanked. And it didn’t take long before the nearby Platinum 21 decided it was time for Club Onyx to stop eating into its profits, prosecutors said.

Smith and Platinum 21’s corporate manager, Harold “Bit” Thrower, concocted the arson scheme, federal prosecutor Zahra Karenshak told the jury. “It’s about money, pure and simple,” she said.

Defense attorney Jim Hodes countered that Smith had nothing to do with the blaze. He said prosecutors have struck deals with unsavory, unreliable witnesses who are testifying against Smith only to help themselves.

Already, Thrower and Sandeo Dyson, a member of Platinum 21’s security detail, have pleaded guilty. They are testifying against Smith, a former Marine who once worked promotion for the infamous Gold Club.

Club Onyx made a splash on Atlanta’s adult entertainment scene almost overnight, hosting parties for rappers Uncle Luke and T.I. Its bar sales soared from $17,000 a week to almost $40,000, according to testimony.

At that time, Dyson worked security at Platinum 21, moonlighting from his post as a soldier at the Camp Frank D. Merrill mountain training facility in Dahlonega. Thrower and Smith pulled him aside one day and told him to do something about Club Onyx, Dyson testified.

“They were adamant,” he said. “In no uncertain terms, the plan was to burn it, to shut them down.”

On one occasion, he dumped rats in the club and, on another, littered it with roaches to get the health department to shut Club Onyx down, he said. But neither ploy worked.

The two managers then promised to pay Dyson to torch the club, he testified.

Prosecutors introduced videotape from a security camera showing Dyson near the kitchen spreading an accelerant, starting the fire and then fleeing.

Once federal arson investigators confronted Thrower, he admitted to his role in the arson and pointed the finger at Dyson and Smith.

Thrower also told agents he could get Dyson and some of his fellow soldiers to commit a commando-style armed robbery of a drug stash house in North Georgia. Wearing a hidden microphone, Thrower lured in Dyson and four other soldiers, all of whom were arrested on drug and weapons charges before they could launch the raid on the fictitious drug house.

During his testimony, Dyson acknowledged that, in exchange for his testimony against Smith, prosecutors have agreed not to charge him for his role in the undercover stash house scheme.


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