An indictment was unsealed today charging nine people in a loan sharking and illegal gambling ring allegedly run out of several Philadelphia businesses.
The charges were announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Edward J. Hanko, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division.
Ylli Gjeli, 48, Fatimir Mustafaraj, 41, George Markakis, 43, Gezim Asllani, 34, Rezart Rahmi Telushi, 40, Eneo Jahaj, 26, and Ardit Pone, 35, all of Philadelphia; Erion Murataj, 35, of Huntingdon Valley, Penn.; and Brian Jackson, 35, of Harleysville, Penn., were arrested this morning. The defendants are named in an indictment charging racketeering conspiracy, racketeering collection of unlawful debt, making extortionate extensions of credit, collections of extensions of credit by extortionate means, operating an illegal gambling business and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
“The indictment unsealed today charges nine defendants with operating a criminal enterprise built on illegal gambling and a violent extortion racket,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. “The Justice Department will not stand by as criminal organizations victimize our communities. Today’s charges demonstrate our ongoing commitment to working alongside our federal, state and local counterparts to root out organized crime.”
“The indictment charges the defendants with running a violent loan sharking and gambling enterprise, using intimidation, threats and actual violence as part of their illegal business,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger. “We will not tolerate this type of criminal activity that preys upon financial weakness and threatens the physical safety of the individuals in debt and their innocent family members.”
“The defendants allegedly victimized people twice over,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Hanko. “They provided loans at outrageous interest rates to those unable to obtain loans from traditional sources and then used threats and violence to collect on those illegal loans. Today's arrests demonstrate the FBI’s continued commitment to ridding Philadelphia of organized crime, wherever we find it.”
“Individuals who engage in this type of financial fraud should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Akeia Conner. “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to ‘following the money trail’ to ensure that those who engage in these illegal activities are vigorously investigated and brought to justice.”
According to the indictment, the defendants and their associates used businesses located in Philadelphia – including the Lion Bar, Blackbird Café, “Ylli’s 2 Brothers,” First England Pizza and various coffee shops, among others – to conduct the enterprise’s loan sharking activities and illegal gambling business. The defendants allegedly generated money by making and collecting on loans with usurious rates of interest; using intimidation, threats and violence to make and collect on loans; and making loans to betting customers whose debts were incurred through the enterprise’s illegal gambling business.
Members and associates of the enterprise allegedly cultivated their reputation for violence by threatening customers with dangerous weapons such as a firearm or hatchet; using implied threats and intimidation; telling customers that if they did not pay their debts someone would kill them, break their legs or physically harm them or their family members in some other way; and physically assaulting subordinate members and associates. For example, the indictment alleges that Gjeli asked a customer why he had come to the basement of the Lion Bar. He then grabbed a hatchet with one hand, grabbed the customer’s arm with the other hand and slammed the hatchet onto the table right after the customer pulled his hand away. It is further alleged that defendant Gjeli placed a gun to the same customer’s head and threatened him.
It is further alleged that the defendants attempted to conceal the existence and operations of the enterprise from law enforcement by: limiting their discussions of criminal activities when on the phone, using cryptic and coded language to describe criminal activities, such as “pizza” to describe a loan; conducting pat-downs and body searches of customers to check for weapons and recording devices; and conducting the enterprise’s transactions primarily in cash.
According to the indictment, Gjeli was a leader and “boss” of the organization; Mustafaraj, aka “Tony,” was a leader and “muscle.” Both allegedly directed other members in the loan sharking activities and illegal gambling business, approved loans, used intimidation and threats of violence against customers, collected weekly loan payments, physically assaulted subordinate members and their associates, supervised the illegal gambling business, provided cash to pay customer’s gambling wins and otherwise financed the gambling business, collected gambling debts and made loans to customers whose debts were incurred through the illegal gambling business. Markakis, aka “George the Greek” and “Fat George,” was allegedly a leader of the enterprise who directed other members in the illegal gambling business. Murataj, aka “Ben” and “Paul,” and Asllani, aka “Sam,” were allegedly “collectors” who assisted Gjeli and Mustafaraj in making loans and regularly collected weekly loan payments from customers. Telushi, aka “Luigi,” was allegedly a “collector” who regularly collected weekly loan payments from customers. Jahaj, aka “Nimo,” Jackson, aka “Mark,” and Pone were allegedly “bookies” who operated parts of the illegal gambling business and regularly collected gambling debts. Jahaj and Jackson also allegedly set up and administered online accounts to facilitate customer betting and used the enterprise’s loan sharking activities to convert the gambling debts to loans.
If convicted of all charges, Gjeli and Mustafaraj face a maximum sentence of life in prison. The remaining defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
An indictment is an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case was investigated by the FBI, IRS-CI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Pennsylvania State Police, Montgomery County, Penn., Detectives and the New Jersey State Police. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Salvatore L. Astolfi and Trial Attorney Jerome Maiatico of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.