Friday, August 28, 2015

The Grandfather Clause

Some people think Phil Genovese, Jr. resembles his grandfather.

"Around the eyes, maybe," the world's newest novelist was saying the other day. Genovese has just had his first novel, "The Grandfather Clause," published by Author House.

It's the story of a legitimate New Jersey businessman who gets himself entwined in the underground world of his Mafia crime boss grandfatherThe Grandfather Clause.

Which is no stretch for the 50-something Jersey Shore resident, the grandson of Vito Genovese one of the most powerful mobsters in American history -- who controlled chunks of the gambling, loan-sharking and drug businesses of Staten Island.

Phil is far more a product of suburban America than of his grandfather's La Cosa Nostra, however. He was raised at the Shore by his mother and CPA father, usually seeing Don Vito only on Sundays when his grandfather would summon the family for dinner at his simple Atlantic Highlands home.

After graduating from Villanova University in the mid-1970s, the younger Genovese's first real job was at that stalwart of U.S. capitalism Johnson & Johnson. From there, he made a number of stops as an expert in moving cargo around the world.

Now he's with another Fortune 500 outfit, a corporation so huge it has offices in countries some of us have never heard of. He doesn't even like mentioning the company name while publicizing his book for fear of offending the higher ups.

"Separation of church and state," he explains. But there are flashbacks in his life that are undeniable.

He has a scene early in the very readable new book where the mob boss's young grandson stands on a chair to hand his grandfather ingredients for the tomato sauce that is being painstakingly prepared on the kitchen stove.

"That's a lot like it really was," he says of his childhood days before Vito Genovese was shipped off to federal prison, where he died in the late 1960s.

QUIET CONVERSATIONS

And he recalls vividly his grandfather's aging friends coming by on those Sundays for whispered conversations around cups of espresso. And of Vito's wake at the old Anderson's Funeral Home on Broad Street in Red Bank.

"The black FBI cars were parked across the street with the long camera lenses sticking out the windows," he said.

There were tales from his own father of living in Park Avenue luxury in the 1930s. "He used to see Eleanor Roosevelt on the elevator in his apartment house," said Genovese. And, maybe through some form of childhood osmosis, Phil learned something from his grandfather's business.

One lesson was that, just as in the legitimate world, in the mob, competency isn't always rewarded and messing up not always punished.

That was very much so in the case of Vincent "The Chin" Gigante.

Long before Gigante began famously roaming Greenwich Village's Carmine Street in bathrobe and slippers, he was a hit man for Don Vito. Needless to say, business was booming.

One day in May 1957, Genovese gave his underling a very important job. He was to travel uptown to the landmark Majestic Apartments on Central Park West. There, he was told he'd find one Frank Costello (real name Francesco Castiglia).

"I want him to disappear," Genovese said of his rival.

The young Gigante waited on the corner of 72nd Street until he saw Costello approaching the building's lobby door. Chin made his move, firing from close to point-blank range. He was high and wide. The bullet glanced off Costello's head, grazing him. Instead of imbedding deep into the skull of the fingered mobster, it would smack harmlessly into the marble lobby wall.

The bullet mark is still plain to see above the building entrance 50 years later.

"Botched job," Phil Genovese pointed out the other day. And one that began Don Vito's decline in organized crime.

"Chin screwed up, and what happened? He wound up eventually becoming the boss."

THE FAMILY ENDURES

The Genovese crime family didn't dry up and disappear when Don Vito died.

One of the bosses to follow Genovese was Funzi Tieri, a guy with deep Island connections who was known to be among the biggest bookmakers and loan-sharks in the country.

Once Tieri became the acting boss, you could find him almost daily at a restaurant on Third Avenue in Brooklyn.

One evening, he was met there by two Staten Island lawyers.

The older attorney, I'll call him Morty, had long handled Genovese bookmaking cases in the borough.

On this night, he'd brought a young friend along in hopes Tieri would toss some business to the new guy (who was clearly interested in climbing aboard what he saw as the Mafia gravy train).

Morty and the gangster drank wine and ate pasta and steaks and talked about old times for hours, while the younger attorney sat respectfully silent.

Late into the night, the older lawyer weaved as he was led to the car.

On the ride home to Todt Hill he told his young associate that he thought a good impression had been made.

"Kid," the conversation was remembered years later, "I think if you follow me, you're going to be OK."

The younger lawyer didn't answer.

He rolled to a stop in front of his mentor's house and hustled his rumpled associate out of the car as quickly as he could. Then he turned the car around and sped back over the Verrazano to the restaurant.

Tieri was still there when he arrived, and waved the now lone lawyer back to the table.

"What happened kid?" he wanted to know. "Where's your friend?"

"With all due respect, Mr. Tieri" the younger lawyer said, "I don't think Mort is up to doing the job for you anymore. Why don't you hire me, instead?"

And so, Tieri, who always admired a man who could focus on his own best interests, did just that.

Thanks to Cormac Gordon

The Story of the Kansas City Mob, The Mafia and the Machine

Forget Las Vegas and Chicago — for most of the 20th century Kansas City was a gangster’s paradise.

The details of politics’ cozy relationship with organized crime in Kansas City stunned Frank Hayde while he was researching his book, The Mafia and the Machine: The Story of the Kansas City Mob.

“I think people in Kansas City are hungry for a story that is exciting and colorful,” said Hayde, a Prairie Village native. “My story is not sensationalistic at all — all my facts come from documented sources. Organized crime in Kansas City was a phenomenon of the 20th century and we should view it in a historical standpoint — it wasn’t all violence and tabloid talk.”

Hayde’s book looks at the link between organized crime and politics in Kansas City during a 100-year span.

He became interested in the topic when he started reading about organized crime in other cities. There was always some mention of Kansas City, which sparked his interest and his research.

He spent the next few years traveling back and forth to Kansas City from his Colorado home, looking up old newspapers, local history books, police reports, government reports and court files.

It wasn’t easy — a lot of police files from the early 20th century had simply vanished because the police department had been corrupted by the Mafia.

Making the research understandable also took time. “I didn’t want a 500-page book with footnotes,” Hayde said, with a laugh. “I really wanted something readable yet hard-hitting.”

Hayde, a U.S. park ranger, doesn’t regret the long evening hours and weekends spent working on his book. Writing had been his favorite hobby since he graduated from the University of Kansas with an English degree in 1993.

Plus, his job has allowed him to maintain his writing skills. “In the park service, you have to write a lot of incident reports, which forces you to write in a concise, descriptive way,” he said. “Most officers hate writing reports, but I don’t it because it’s helped me write a book.”

Although his co-workers were surprised at his latest literary accomplishment, his parents in Prairie Village didn’t blink an eye.

History is a big part of their lives — Hayde’s family has been residing in the Kansas City area since the 1860s.

His father, John, believes he may have helped whet his son’s appetite for organized crime in Kansas City.

Seeing the mob in the news was a big part of John Hayde’s childhood — he remembers when the Union Station Massacre was splashed across the local newspapers. “Those years — the jazz years in Kansas City — were so exciting and my parents talked about it all the time, it was all over the newspapers,” he said. “I was absolutely intrigued to read Frank’s book and think, ‘My golly, it’s all coming alive in my memory, like a movie.’”

Frank Hayde hopes his writing experience won’t end at the Kansas City Mafia — there are several local stories he would love to tell.

For now, however, he just wants to take his literary career one step at a time.

Thanks to Jennifer Bhargava

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chop Shop is Now Available on DvD & Digital HD

Chop Shop"Chop Shop" follows a group of car thieves in Los Angeles as they rise from the criminal underground to become big-time international players.

Stars: Ana Ayora, John Bregar, Luis Moncada

Monday, August 24, 2015

Frank Lucas, Hollywood´s "American Gangster," and La Cosa Nostra Connection

Special to The Chicago Syndicate by Ron Chepesiuk

Hollywood has been hard at work molding the image of former 1970s Harlem drug trafficker Frank ¨Superfly¨ Lucas into the prototype of the modern American gangster. Frank Lucas, Hollywood´s 'American Gangster,' and La Cosa Nostra Connection The image of the Lucas character, played by Denzel Washington, has some shades of Edgar G. Robinson´s Little Caesar and Al Pacino´s Scarface, but while ruthless, the character is also African American, entrepreneurial, independent and even visionary. As part of the creation, Universal, the movie´s maker, would have us believe that Lucas was so entrepreneurial and independent that he became the first black gangster to break free of La Cosa Nostra´s iron grip on the American heroin trade and develop his own independent heroin trafficking network.

In the 2000 New York magazine article upon which the ¨American Gangster¨ movie is based, author Mark Jacobson wrote that if he (Lucas) really wanted to become "white-boy rich, Donald Trump rich," Lucas thought, he'd have to ´cut out the guineas (Italian American mafia). He'd learned as much working for Bumpy (Johnson) , picking up "packages" from Fat Tony Salerno's Pleasant Avenue guys, men with names like Joey Farts and Kid Blast.¨

Jacobson quotes Lucas as saying, ¨I needed my own supply. That's when I decided to go to Southeast Asia. Because the war was on, and people were talking about GIs getting strung out over there. I knew if the shit is good enough to string out GIs, then I can make myself a killing."

In the movie, the Italian American mafia is represented by the character Dominic Cattano. Played by Amand Assante, Cattano works out a deal in which Superfly becomes the white Mob´s major supplier of potent Number 4 heroin from Southeast Asia. At the end of the ¨historic¨ meeting, Lucas dramatically tells his wife: ¨ They (the Mob) work for me now.¨

So how accurate is Hollywood´s depiction of the Lucas--La Cosa relationship? Not very. It´s one of many inaccuracies that make the movie largely a work of fiction. Frank Lucas did not have any independent source of Asian heroin, and he was never in any position to dictate business terms to the Mob. In fact, for most of his career, Lucas got his smack the old fashion way: from La Cosa Nostra.

First some historical background. From the 1950s through the 1960s, the old reliable French Connection dominated the heroin drug trade. It was an efficient network in which Corsican gangsters transported the morphine base from the poppy fields grown in Turkey to Marseille, France. The morphine base was then refined into heroin and smuggled into the U.S., the connection´s biggest market, via Sicily, Italy, and Montreal, Canada.

It was efficient network that, according to the U.S. government reports, accounted for as much as 80 percent of the heroin smuggled into the U.S. By the early 1970s, however, international law enforcement was having great success against the French Connection and taking down its key mobsters. Meanwhile, the U.S persuaded the Turkish government to tighten surveillance of the country´s poppy fields, purchase the poppy crop from its farmers and institute procedures to encourage crop substitution. By 1972, the French Connection was in shambles.

Up until law enforcement began having success against Lucas, he, like other New York city heroin dealers, was getting his heroin supply from La Cosa Nostra. My research shows that Lucas did not come to Bangkok, Thailand until about 1974. Joe Sullivan a retired DEA agent who worked drug cases in East Harlem in the 1970s, recalled: ¨The French Connection was in the process of being dismantled and the supply was tight and expensive,. All the big drug traffickers, including Lucas, was getting their heroin supply from the Italians. Lucas was getting it for about $200,000 a kilo.¨

It didn´t mean that Lucas wasn´t making a lot of money in getting his heroin from the Mob. As Sullivan revealed.¨They (La Cosa Nostra) trusted their foreign contacts and were satisfied with bringing their heroin into the country. But the Italians thought it beneath them to whack the heroin, mix it, put it in glassine envelopes and hawk in the street. They preferred to sell their heroin to the black dealers. A few black dealers, such as Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, became successful controlling the drug business on the street while insulating themselves from the actual distributor.¨

When this author asked Lucas if he had ever worked with the Italian mob, the mere suggestion was enough to set off the old drug trafficker. ¨I was not going to have no fucking fat guy leaning back in the chair, smoking a $20 cigar and bragging how he had another nigger in Harlem working for him,¨Superfly roared. ¨I don´t play that game. The Italians were charging $50,000 to 75,000 a kilo, and I was getting it for $4,000 a kilo (from Asia). My junk traveled from the Mekong Valley to the Ho Chi Minh trail to the U.S.¨

The historical record, however, suggests that for most of Superfly´s criminal career it was otherwise. In June 1974, Lucas went to trial with 12 others for conspiracy to traffic heroin. It was just seven months before the authorities raided his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, and busted him for good. And still at that late date, no mention is made in the court records and in the press of any Asian connection in his drug trafficking plan. That didn´t happen until 1977 when Lucas was in prison and got busted again for trying to keep his heroin network operating.

One defendant in that 1974 trial was prominent Italian American mobster Ralph Tutino, aka ¨The General.¨ Lucas, Tutino and the other defendants were accused of involvement in a heroin smuggling conspiracy. The prosecutor identified Tutino as the principle heroin supplier, and Lucas, along with Robert Stepeney, another heroin drug dealer, as the major distributors.

According to the indictment, La Cosa Nostra mobster Antonio DeLutro delivered a package of about 11 pounds of heroin to Anthony Verzino in November1973 and received, as payment, $250,000 in two installments. Then in December 1973, Mario Perna, and Ernest Maliza, two other La Cosa mobsters, delivered a package containing 22 pounds of heroin to Lucas at the Van Cortlandt Motel in the Bronx. As these transactions clearly show, Lucas was getting his dope from La Cosa Nostra.

Tutino, who lived in the Bronx but had his headquarters in East Harlem, was a big-time heroin trafficker during the French Connection´s heyday. When the authorities busted the French Connection in 1972, many La Cosa Nostra godfathers who had thrived in the old days were now having trouble finding sources of heroin supply. But not Tutino. The authorities suspected him of having a direct connection to Mexican and Asian suppliers.

Lew Rice, a former DEA agent, interrogated Lucas when he decided to become an informant after facing 70 years in jail. According to Rice, after being busted for heroin trafficking, Lucas readily acknowledged to Rice that La Cosa Nostra was his major source of supply. ¨Lucas told me he was getting his heroin from Tutino, The General,¨ Rice recalled.

Lucas´ relationship with La Cosa Nostra could only be described as a rocky marriage of convenience, for Superfly, according to DEA sources, was constantly in deep financial trouble with La Cosa Nostra. He even owed two well-connected mafioso from the Gambino crime family $300,000 and only managed to avoid ending up buried in cement because the two Gambino crime family mobsters were arrested and carted off to jail in 1974.

The mobsters faced the prospect of long prison sentences, so they began singing like the proverbial canary. They revealed that one of their biggest customers for heroin was a prominent and flamboyant black drug dealer named Frank Lucas, who liked to call himself "Superfly." The informants' information allowed the authorities to obtain a search warrant, which authorized the raid on Lucas's house on Sheffield Road in Teaneck, New Jersey, in late January, 1975. This was the beginning of the end of Frank Lucas´s big-time criminal career, thanks to La Cosa Nostra.

Leslie Ike¨ Atkinson, a former U.S. army master sergeant and prominent black American drug dealer of the 1960s to mid 1970s, not Lucas, was the one who pioneered the Asian heroin connection. It is Atkinson, DEA sources confirm, who supplied Superfly with his Asian heroin, making him, not Lucas, deserving of the title, ¨American Gangster.¨

Atkinson, whom the DEA dubbed ¨Sergeant Smack,¨ got a close up look at Lucas´ dealings with La Cosa Nostra. In a recent interview, he remembered the time he was imprisoned in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in the mid 1970s and two members of the Italian American mob paid him a visit. ¨´Frank Lucas said to come see you,´ one of the gangsters told me. ´He did what?´ I said. The mobsters said: ´Frank owes us $80,000 and he said you would take care of it.¨ Atkinson laughed. ¨Frank actually thought he could send two wise guys to me and I would pay off his debt."

Atkinson recalled another occasion when he went to New Jersey to pick up some money Lucas owed him. When he arrived at his destination, Lucas had men posted outside his residence. Superfly was in deep trouble with the Mob again.

So, yes, La Cosa Nostra did come to Frank ¨Superfly¨ Lucas. But it was to collect money owed him, not to get its heroin supply.

Investigative journalist Ron Chepesiuk is a consultant to the History Channel´s ¨Gangland¨ series and the co-author and co-producer of the book and DVD titled SUPERFLY: THE TRUE-UNTOLD STORY OF FRANK LUCAS THE AMERICANGANGSTER
(www.franklucasamericangangster.com.)

Karen Finley Pleads Guilty to Bribery in Chicago Red-Light Camera Scam

The former chief executive officer of Chicago’s first red-light camera vendor pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.

As the CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., KAREN FINLEY funneled cash and other personal financial benefits to a City of Chicago official and his friend, knowing that the payments would help persuade the city to award red-light camera contracts to Redflex, according to a plea agreement. The benefits included golf trips, hotels and meals, as well as hiring the city official’s friend as a highly compensated contractor for Redflex, according to the plea agreement.

The benefits flowed over a nine-year period, from 2003 to 2011, during which time the city expanded the Digital Automated Red Light Enforcement Program by awarding millions of dollars in contracts to Phoenix-based Redflex, the plea agreement states.

Finley, 55, of Cave Creek, Ariz., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in a federal program. U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall scheduled a sentencing hearing for Feb. 18, 2016. Finley faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss from the offense, and mandatory restitution.

The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; John A. Brown, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Joseph M. Ferguson, Inspector General for the City of Chicago; and Stephen Boyd, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago.

According to the plea agreement, Redflex first began competing for the Chicago contract in early 2003, while Finley was then Redflex’s vice president of operations. In the course of the competition, Finley learned that John Bills, who was then an assistant Chicago transportation commissioner in charge of the city’s red-light camera program, was championing Redflex by providing pointers and inside information to Redflex, the plea agreement states.

After Redflex was awarded its first Chicago contract in approximately late May 2003, Finley hired Bills’ friend Martin O’Malley as a contractor for Redflex, in an effort to ensure that Bills would continue to provide assistance to Redflex in future contract negotiations with the city. Finley admitted in the plea agreement that she knew O’Malley was a friend of Bills and that it was important to Bills that Redflex hire him. Finley personally signed O’Malley’s contract, which included provisions for lucrative increases in O’Malley’s compensation as new red-light cameras were added, according to the plea agreement.

After Finley became CEO of Redflex in 2007, O’Malley’s commissions escalated and Bills continued to assist the company, including having at least one red-light contract “sole-sourced” to Redflex, the plea agreement states. Finley states in the plea agreement that she knew Redflex was also paying personal expenses for Bills in order to buy his influence and expand Redflex’s business with the city. These expenses included meals, golf outings, rental cars, airline tickets to Phoenix, rooms at the Biltmore Hotel and other entertainment, according to the plea agreement.

Redflex’s technology uses cameras to automatically record and ticket drivers who run red lights. Between 2004 and 2008, the city paid Redflex approximately $25 million, according to the indictment against Finley, Bills and O’Malley. Bills was a voting member of the city’s Request For Proposal evaluation committee that recommended awarding the contracts to Redflex, the indictment states. In February 2008, the city awarded the “sole-sourced” contract to Redflex, paying the company approximately $33 million, according to the indictment. The city followed up that contract with another one the same month – agreeing to pay Redflex approximately $66 million for the installation of nearly 250 additional red-light cameras.

Bills, 54, of Chicago, was indicted on nine counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, three counts of federal program bribery, three counts of filing a false federal income tax return, and one count each of extortion and conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to proceed to trial on Jan. 11, 2016, before Judge Kendall. Bills retired from the city in 2011.

O’Malley, 74, of Worth, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in a federal program. No sentencing date has been set.

The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Laurie J. Barsella.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bomb Threat Against the Statue of Liberty @StatueEllisNPS

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, the Commissioner of the Police Department for the City of New York (“NYPD”), announced that JASON PAU.S.ITH was arrested in Lubbock, Texas, for communicating a hoax threat to bomb the Statue of Liberty that precipitated the evacuation of more than 3,200 people from Liberty Island in New York Harbor. SMITH is expected to be presented later today in federal court in the Northern District of Texas.

As alleged in the criminal Complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court:

On April 24, 2015, SMITH initiated a call to the emergency 911 system (the “911 Call”) from his iPad using a service that assists hearing-impaired individuals with making and receiving telephone calls (the “Service”). In the 911 Call, SMITH identified himself as “Abdul Yasin,” described himself as an “ISI terrorist,” and threatened that “we” are preparing to “blow up” the Statue of Liberty.

Law enforcement officers responded to the threat that SMITH conveyed in the 911 Call, and conducted a sweep of the areas in and around the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island with the aid of canine units trained to detect explosives. Canine units alerted to the area of the visitor lockers at the base of the Statue of Liberty, prompting law enforcement officers and emergency responders to evacuate the more than 3,200 people who were on Liberty Island at the time. Subsequently, the threat conveyed by SMITH was determined to be unfounded.

The iPad registered in SMITH’s name has used the Service to make other 911 calls, including at least two calls in May 2015 from a user who identified himself as “Isis allah Bomb maker” and who threatened to attack Times Square and kill police officers at the Brooklyn Bridge.

SMITH, 42, of Harts, West Virginia, is charged with one count of conveying false and misleading information and hoaxes, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum penalty is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force—which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD. Mr. Bharara also thanked the United States Park Police for its assistance.

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Loan Sharks are Alive and Well

Loan sharking. It’s a term that might conjure up historical images of shadowy organized crime figures handing out questionable loans at exorbitant interest rates to desperate customers, usually followed by threats of violence if the loans aren’t paid off.

Unfortunately, loan sharks are alive and well in 2015 and continue to benefit from the financial misfortunes of others. Last month, the two top leaders of an Albanian criminal organization operating in the Philadelphia area were sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms for running a violent loan sharking and illegal gambling ring. Ylli Gjeli, the boss, and Fatimir Mustafaraj, the muscle, were convicted late last year after a six-week trial. Two other defendants were convicted at the same trial.

From 2002 to 2013, Gjeli and Mustafaraj led the multi-million-dollar criminal enterprise with two primary sources of income: loan sharking and illegal gambling. The illegal gambling arm of the operation included an online sports betting website that contributed more than $2.9 million in gross profits to the group’s criminal coffers. There was often crossover between the two arms of the organization—when customers couldn’t cover their gambling losses, bookies would refer them to the loan sharking side of the house.

The illegal activity took place in various Philadelphia bars and coffee houses owned or controlled by the organization. In addition to the gambling operation, Gjeli, Mustafaraj, and company generated money by making loans to customers at interest rates that ranged from 104 percent to 395 percent and demanding weekly repayments.

These repayment demands were almost always accompanied by acts of intimidation. Customers were menaced with firearms, hatchets, and threats of physical harm to themselves or family members. In a number of instances, perhaps to create the false impression that the Albanians were part of a larger and more powerful organization, customers were told that “people from New York” were willing to cause bodily harm to anyone who didn’t pay up.

Gjeli and Mustafaraj not only directed the criminal activities of their underlings—who included debt collectors and bookies—they also got their own hands dirty by directly financing loans, intimidating and threatening violence against customers to collect loan payments, and physically assaulting subordinates and associates who stole from the organization or who didn’t collect their debts on time.

According to Philadelphia FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward Hanko, Gjeli and Mustafaraj took advantage of their victims twice. “They provided loans at outrageous interest rates to those unable to obtain loans from traditional sources,” he explained, “and then used threats and violence to collect on those illegal loans.”

The investigation revealed that the Lion Bar, an establishment owned by Gjeli, served as the main hub of the organization’s criminal activities—it was where Gheli, Mustafaraj, and their associates met with current and prospective borrowers. What they didn’t realize was that one of their borrowers was actually an FBI undercover agent, and during one particular meeting, details of a $50,000 loan were worked out with him. Gjeli informed our undercover agent that his limbs would be broken if he didn’t pay back what he owed in a timely manner.

Also during the investigation, law enforcement was able to make more than 400 audio recordings and numerous surveillance videos of the criminal activity. By August 2013, arrests were made, including those of Gjeli and Mustafaraj. And the FBI executed a series of search warrants at related businesses, homes, vehicles, and a storage locker. Law enforcement recovered guns, cash, computers, phones, video surveillance, loan applications, loan ledgers, and gambling records. Fortunately, the group kept good records of its criminal activities, and much of the evidence seized in August was presented at trial.

That evidence, plus trial testimony from many of Gjeli’s and Mustafaraj’s customers—and even members of their own criminal organization—was enough to convince a jury of the defendants’ guilt.

And as with many successful investigations, the FBI didn’t do it alone: Their Philadelphia Field Office worked closely with the Pennsylvania State Police, New Jersey State Police, Montgomery County Detective Bureau, and the Internal Revenue Service to dismantle a very dangerous and prolific criminal enterprise.

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