Former record promoter Joseph Isgro was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison Thursday for running a loan-sharking business outside a Beverly Hills shopping center.
Isgro, who spent most of 1990s fending off federal payola and racketeering charges, was accused of lending money at 5% interest a week to people in financial distress and using subordinates to threaten those who fell behind in their payments.
U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins ordered the 52-year-old Isgro to pay $356,657 in restitution, representing interest he earned from the usurious loans.
Anthony Saitta, 63, who served as Isgro’s chief enforcer, was also sentenced to 50 months in prison and ordered to pay $356,657 restitution. Valentino Bartolone, 35, a collector, got a 32-month prison term and was ordered to pay $344,507 in restitution.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Terri A. Law, who prosecuted the case, said Isgro preyed on desperate people, especially gambling and drug addicts and business owners facing bankruptcy.
Isgro was arrested in March in front of Le Grand Passage shopping center in Beverly Hills, where he and his associates had dispensed loans and collected interest payments for six years, according to Law.
One victim came forward with his story in January, triggering an FBI-Beverly Hills police investigation that led to the arrests. All three suspects subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy and extortion.
Isgro, handcuffed and wearing prison garb, declined an invitation to address the judge at his sentencing hearing Thursday.
Defense lawyer Donald Re suggested in his courtroom remarks that Isgro was driven to loan-sharking because of a protracted federal prosecution that flopped but left him “busted and broke.”
In the late 1980s, Isgro was charged with giving payola to radio station programmers to ensure airplay for certain recordings. A federal judge threw out the case after finding that the prosecutor committed misconduct by failing to disclose evidence that could have been used to exonerate Isgro. The case remained alive for nearly a decade while the government pursued appeals.
Re said the bad publicity surrounding the payola case “totally destroyed [Isgro’s] very successful business, totally destroyed his finances. . . . This man was slapped in the face and kicked in the gut.”
At the time, Isgro was a highly successful member of the Network, a loose affiliation of record promoters who reportedly received $60 million a year from the record industry.
He also operated an independent record label that handled such R&B; legends as James Brown and the Gap band. Brown was among about 100 friends, relatives and record industry associates who wrote Collins asking that she show leniency toward Isgro.
Law argued, however, that Isgro deserved the maximum penalty allowed under federal sentencing guidelines: 57 months, according to the judge’s calculations.
She emphasized that Isgro operated as a loan shark for six years, lived in a beautiful Beverly Hills home and drove a new Cadillac, while his debtors were subjected to physical and psychological abuse when they failed to make their weekly payments.
One victim told investigators that Saitta whacked him across the face so hard it left a mark for several hours. “Next time, I’ll split your head open,” Saitta was heard telling the man in a telephone conversation secretly recorded afterward.
Law said some of Isgro’s victims still live in fear of him. The prosecution previously released an FBI report naming Isgro as a soldier in the Gambino crime family. Re denied the allegation.