Violent Loan Sharks Get Long Prison Terms
PHILADELPHIA—The leaders of a violent loan sharking and illegal gambling ring that operated out of several Philadelphia businesses were sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn in Philadelphia, PA. Ylli Gjeli, 49, of Philadelphia, was sentenced today to 168 months in prison. Fatimir Mustafaraj, 42, also of Philadelphia, was sentenced to 147 months in prison. 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.
On December 15, 2014, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against Gjeli, Mustafaraj and their co-defendants, Gezim Asllani and Rezart Rahmi Telushi, on charges 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. Evidence presented at trial established that from October 2011 to 2013, the enterprise extended 125 usurious loans totaling $1.78 million with annual interest rates ranging from 104 percent to 395 percent. And, from February 2007 to August 2013, the organization’s online sports betting website contributed more than $2.9 million in gross profits. The Lion Bar & Grill in Philadelphia was used as a front for the enterprise. The enterprise also used Blackbird Café and “Ylli’s 2 Brothers” to conduct illegal loan sharking and gambling activities.
Gjeli was a leader and “boss” of the multi-million-dollar criminal 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. Asllani and Telushi were debt collectors who assisted Gjeli and Mustafaraj in making loans and regularly collected weekly loan payments from customers.
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.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 15, 2015 for Telushi and for September 3, 2015 for Asllani. Five co-defendants who pleaded guilty are also awaiting sentencing.
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 Attorneys Salvatore L. Astolfi and Jerome Maiatico and Trial Attorney Margaret Vierbuchen from the Department of Justice Organized Crime & Gang Section.