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Record Chief Is Termed a Mob ‘Soldier’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tiny extortion ring operating in the heart of Beverly Hills is tied to the biggest organized crime family in New York, government prosecutors alleged Friday.

Prosecutors say Joseph Isgro, a Tarzana record executive arrested last week by federal agents, is a “soldier” for the Gambino crime family who has been running a “violent” extortion and loan-sharking operation since 1994. Citing an FBI affidavit, prosecutors said Isgro is one of 192 identifiable members of the Gambino clan. He has been the subject of a federal investigation for “many years.”

Prosecutors raised the allegations in a court hearing Friday to convince a federal magistrate to deny bail for Isgro and his associate, Valentino Bartolone, 35, who authorities feared would intimidate and harm witnesses in the case.

U.S. Magistrate Charles F. Eick rejected bail for both men, saying “there is no way to reasonably assure the safety of the community” should they be released.

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After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Atty. Terri Law said an investigation is continuing into whether hundreds of thousands of dollars collected by Isgro and his associates were funneled back into the Gambino family.

Isgro’s attorney Don Re denied the allegations, saying his client is neither an extortionist nor a gangster.

“These charges are ridiculous,” said Re, who represented Isgro in a 1989 payola case that was thrown out in 1996. “Joe Isgro is not a member of the Gambino family. The government has been making allegations like this about Joe for 10 years. There is no truth to it whatsoever.”

Isgro, owner of Private-I Records, has no criminal record but was the target of a failed federal payola and racketeering prosecution that lasted nearly a decade. The 52-year-old executive was taken into custody Saturday in front of Le Grand Passage shopping center on Canon Drive, a location he and his associates often used for confrontations with debtors in arrears, prosecutors allege. Isgro associate Anthony Saitta, 63, was arrested two weeks ago and ordered held without bail.

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Isgro and his small team of associates allegedly extorted money from about 30 victims over the past six years, charging interest rates of up to 5% a week, prosecutors said. One alleged victim, Frank Arico, said Saitta slapped him in the face and threatened to “slit [his] head open” when he couldn’t make a payment, authorities said.

Another alleged victim, Bernard Beyda, a 66-year-old businessman from Rancho Palos Verdes, went to Beverly Hills police with his story early in January, triggering a joint FBI-Beverly Hills investigation.

Prosecutors also played an audiotape of a Feb. 29 telephone conversation they said was between Beyda and Saitta, in which Saitta threatened him for missing a payment.

In a video secretly taped March 4, Beyda showed up outside Le Grand Passage to meet with Isgro with only half of the $5,200 he owes. Authorities played an audiotape of a conversation during that meeting between Isgro and Beyda, who was wired by the government officers.

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A male voice on the tape identified as Isgro’s suggests that Beyda’s interest rate be reduced from 5% to 3%. Beyda expressed relief and repeated his promise to pay up.

“Do you know what it’s gonna be like if I have to come after ya?,” Isgro then asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

Prosecutors said the video and audio tapes make clear that Isgro was in charge of the loan-sharking operation. They also cited “pay and owe sheets” bearing Isgro’s initials that were seized from the home of Saitta.

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A federal grand jury indicted all three men Thursday on extortion and loan sharking charges. They will be arraigned Monday.


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