Albanian Crime Group Used Violence, Intimidation in Business Dealings

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.

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