Jury Returns Guilty Verdicts Against Members of Violent Loan Sharking and Illegal Gambling Ring
A federal jury today returned guilty verdicts against four defendants charged in a loan sharking and illegal gambling ring that was run out of several Philadelphia businesses, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Ylli Gjeli, 49, Fatimir Mustafaraj, aka “Tony,” 42, Gezim Asllani, aka “Sam,” 35, Rezart Rahmi Telushi, aka “Luigi,” 41, all of Philadelphia, were found guilty following a six-week jury trial of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, racketeering collection of unlawful debts, making extortionate extensions of credit, collections of extensions of credit by extortionate means. Additionally, Gjeli, Mustafaraj and Aslanni were convicted of counts involving extortionate extension of credit. Finally, Gjeli and Mustafaraj were convicted of illegal gambling. U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. scheduled sentencing hearings for March 2015.
According to evidence presented at trial, the defendants’ enterprise used businesses in Philadelphia, including the Lion Bar & Grill, Blackbird Café and “Ylli’s 2 Brothers,” to conduct the illegal loan sharking and gambling activities. The enterprise generated money by making and collecting on loans with usurious rates of interest, and making loans to customers whose debts were incurred through the enterprise’s illegal gambling business. The evidence established that from October 2011 to 2013 alone, the enterprise extended 125 usurious loans totaling $1.78 million with annual interest rates ranging from 104 percent to 395 percent. Further, the evidence established that from February 2007 to August 2013, the organization’s online sports betting website contributed more than $2.9 million in gross profits.
Members and associates of the enterprise cultivated their reputations within the organization by threatening customers with dangerous weapons such as firearms and a hatchet, and threating to kill, assault or “break the legs” of delinquent customers if they did not pay their debts, and also by physically assaulting subordinate members and associates who stole from the organization.
The evidence at trial demonstrated that Gjeli was a “boss” of the organization, Mustafaraj served as “muscle” to forcefully collect debts owed to the organization, and Asllani and Telushi served as “collectors,” both making loans and collecting the weekly payments from customers. Gjeli and Mustafaraj directed the other members in the loan sharking activities and illegal gambling business, financed loans and the gambling operation, used intimidation and threats of violence against customers to collect loan payments, and physically assaulted subordinate members and associates who stole from the organization. Asllani and Telushi assisted Gjeli and Mustafaraj in making loans, and regularly collected weekly loan payments from customers.
The evidence also demonstrated 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, conducting pat-downs and body searches of customers to check for weapons and recording devices, and conducting the enterprise’s transactions primarily in cash.
The case was investigated by the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, New Jersey State Police, Montgomery County Detectives, and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Margaret Vierbuchen of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Salvatore L. Astolfi of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.