Jury Returns Guilty Verdicts Against Members of Violent Loan Sharking and Illegal Gambling Ring
PHILADELPHIA—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. Ylli Gjeli, 49, Fatimir Mustafaraj, 42, Gezim Asllani, 35, Rezart Rahmi Telushi, 41, all of Philadelphia, were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering collection of unlawful debt, and collections of extensions of credit by extortionate means. Gjeli, Mustafaraj, and Asllani were also convicted of making extortionate extensions of credit; and Gjeli and Mustafaraj were also convicted of operating an illegal gambling business. U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn scheduled sentencing hearings as follows: Gjeli, March 18, 2015; Mustafaraj, March 19, 2015; Asllani, March 25, 2015; and Telushi, March 26, 2015.
Gjeli was a leader and “boss” of the organization; Mustafaraj, a/k/a “Tony,” was a leader and “muscle.” Both 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 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. Defendants Asllani, a/k/a “Sam,” and Telushi, a/k/a “Luigi,” were “collectors” who assisted Gjeli and Mustafaraj in making loans and regularly collected weekly loan payments from customers. The defendants 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. The enterprise used businesses in Philadelphia—including the Lion Bar & Grill, Blackbird Café, “Ylli’s 2 Brothers,” and First England Pizza—to conduct the criminal activities.
Members and associates of the enterprise cultivated their reputation for violence by threatening customers with dangerous weapons such as a firearm and hatchet; using implied threats and intimidation; telling customers that if they did not pay their debts someone would kill them, “break your legs,” or physically harm them or their family members in some other way; and physically assaulting subordinate members and associates.
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.
Defendant Gjeli faces a maximum possible sentence of 185 years in prison; Mustafaraj faces a maximum possible sentence of 205 years in prison; Asllani faces a maximum possible sentence of 140 years in prison; Telushi faces a maximum possible sentence of 80 years in prison.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, Pennsylvania State Police, Montgomery County Detectives, and the New Jersey State Police. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Salvatore L. Astolfi and Trial Attorney Margaret Vierbuchen from the Department of Justice Organized Crime & Gang Section.