The leaders of a violent loan sharking and illegal gambling ring that operated out of several Philadelphia businesses were sentenced today to serve 168 months and 147 months in prison, 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, and Fatimir Mustafaraj, also known as Tony, 42, both of Philadelphia, were previously convicted following a six-week jury trial of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, collection of unlawful debts, extortion and illegal gambling. Two other defendants were convicted of various related charges in the same trial and are scheduled to be sentenced at a later date. Gjeli and Mustafaraj were sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr. of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
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.
The evidence showed that members and associates of the enterprise cultivated their reputations within the organization by threatening customers with dangerous weapons such as firearms and a hatchet, threatening to kill, assault or “break the legs” of delinquent customers if they did not pay their debts, and physically assaulting subordinate members and associates who stole from the organization.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Gjeli was a “boss” of the multi-million dollar criminal organization. Mustafaraj served as “muscle” to forcefully collect debts owed to the organization. Both defendants 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.
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.
Five co-defendants who previously pleaded guilty are awaiting sentencing.
The case was investigated by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Pennsylvania State Police, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Detectives and the New Jersey State Police. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Margaret Vierbuchen of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Salvatore L. Astolfi and Jerome Maiatico of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.