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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 25, 2020

Two Baltimore County Men Facing Federal Extortion Charges

Allegedly Set Fire to a Home and Planned to Murder Victims Over a Debt

Baltimore, Maryland – A federal criminal complaint has been filed charging Clement Robert Mercaldo, Jr., age 61, of Timonium, Maryland and Stepfen Gerard Gaither, age 29, of Randallstown, Maryland, for collection of credit by extortionate means and for interstate communications with intent to extort.  The criminal complaint was returned on June 16, 2020, and was unsealed at their initial appearance yesterday.

The criminal complaint was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Special Agent in Charge Jennifer C. Boone of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Chief Melissa R. Hyatt of the Baltimore County Police Department.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Mercaldo loaned money to a Baltimore County restaurant owner.  The affidavit alleges that an arson and destruction of property at the restaurant owner’s residence, as well as numerous text message threats received by the restaurant owner and his business partner, are related to recent non-payments of this loan.  Furthermore, evidence collected during the investigation indicates that Mercaldo hired Stepfen Gaither to collect money for these loans and assist with the arson and destruction of property.  Mercaldo and Gaither allegedly also discussed and planned the murder of one or both of the victims.

Specifically, in June 2008, the restaurant owner obtained an “interest only” loan from Mercaldo to open a restaurant.  The loan was repaid through monthly checks given to Mercaldo, and was fully repaid by 2011.  Between 2010 and 2017, the restaurant owner took additional loans from Mercaldo, and Mercaldo insisted that the restaurant owner pay him in cash, weekly.

As detailed in the affidavit, the restaurant owner reduced his monthly payments to Mercaldo in March 2017, due to other outstanding debt.  In February 2019, the restaurant owner again cut his monthly payment to Mercaldo.  Shortly thereafter, the restaurant owner began receiving threatening phone calls and text messages regarding the debt.

On March 29, 2019, the Baltimore County Police Department received a report from the restaurant owner that his vehicle was vandalized while parked in front of his residence overnight.  Initial investigation revealed that between 9:45 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., an unknown subject destroyed the vehicle’s front windshield, and used a cement garden statue to shatter the rear window. 

On August 4, 2019 at 2:52 a.m., the restaurant owner called the Baltimore County Fire Department after he and his wife were awoken by smoke detectors and discovered a fire in the basement near the rear door.  The fire had extended to the exterior first floor of the home.  Based on the physical evidence at the residence, investigators believe that an unknown subject(s) started a fire by breaking the basement window, pouring an ignitable liquid inside and igniting the liquid.  An estimated $50,000 of damage was caused to the dwelling, and the restaurant owner and his wife had to move out of the residence.  There were no injuries to the residents or emergency responders.

The affidavit alleges that from March through September 2019, phone numbers associated with Mercaldo and Gaither used messaging and calling applications to call and text threatening messages to the restaurant owner and his business partner.  These messages including several that took credit for the fire and threatened additional harm to the restaurant owner, his business partner, and their family members if the restaurant owner did not pay his debt.  Text messages sent by Mercaldo and Gaither to each other between October 2019 and January 2020 indicated that Mercaldo solicited Gaither to kill the restaurant owner and his business partner and that Gaither conducted surveillance in furtherance of that plan.

If convicted, Mercaldo and Gaither face a maximum sentence of 20 years for both credit by extortionate means and for interstate communications with intent to extort.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.  At yesterday’s initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day ordered that Mercaldo and Gaither be detained pending a detention hearing scheduled for Friday, June 26, 2020 at 10 am, and 1:30 pm, respectively.

A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt.  An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings. 

United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended the FBI and Baltimore County Police Department for their work in the investigation.  Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul E. Budlow, who is prosecuting the case.

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Updated June 25, 2020