Court upholds loan shark's convictions Evidence presented by prosecutors was sufficient, appeals court says.

October 25, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

A federal appellate court has upheld the extortion and witness tampering convictions of former Highlandtown loan shark William R. "Billy" Isaacs, ruling that prosecutors in Baltimore presented sufficient evidence of his guilt during a jury trial last year.

The opinion, issued by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., Oct. 18, became available Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The appellate judges declined to consider Isaacs' claim that his defense attorney was "ineffective" during his jury trial, and they rejected a claim that trial Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrongly gave Isaacs a stiffer sentence because of evidence that the defendant had injured a gambler who owed him money.

Isaacs, 38, was fined $10,000 and is serving six years without parole in the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. for witness tampering and using violence in attempts to collect on usurious loans he made to two local bookies.

Trial evidence showed that Isaacs, a former bar bouncer, lent more than $100,000 to local bookie Melvin Feldsher at 100 percent annual interest, then hounded him for repayment; slapped admitted gambler Samuel A. Merlo in anger over Merlo's failure to repay a similar debt; and told Merlo not to tell a federal grand jury anything about Isaacs' loan-sharking.

Feldsher, who owns the Pikesville Social Club, and Merlo, a club patron, testified as reluctant prosecution witnesses during Isaacs' trial. They said he lent them money at 20 percent interest every 10 or 12 weeks to cover their gambling debts, and threatened and intimidated them when they didn't pay him back on time.

Merlo testified that he was paying $2,500 "juice," or interest, a week on loans from Isaacs.

Prosecution evidence also included tape-recordings that depicted Merlo and Feldsher telling former Arbutus lawyer Warren E. Rollman details of their dealings with Isaacs.

Rollman, a compulsive gambler who was deeply in debt to loan sharks, was sentenced to federal prison last year in a cocaine case. He obtained the tape recordings while he worked undercover for the FBI in an investigation of Philadelphia loan sharks.

Prosecutors Gary P. Jordan and Lisa M. Griffin said little during the trial about where Isaacs got the money to finance his loan sharking scheme but presented evidence to the jury that the defendant robbed his employer, a vending machine firm.

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