Bodybuilding N.J. Debt Collector Charged With Loan Sharking

A convicted felon and bodybuilder who collected debts for one of the nation’s largest merchant cash-advance companies was arrested in New Jersey last week on loan-sharking charges.

Renato “Gino” Gioe sent threatening text messages to a small-business owner who owed him money, and later confronted the man at his home and said words to the effect of, “I’m going to kill you,” according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Newark.

Gioe was arrested at his home in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, on Aug. 7 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney’s office in Newark said Friday. He was released on bail pending trial, prosecutors said. The complaint was made public Friday.

A lawyer for Gioe, Jonathan Savella, declined to comment.

Gioe, 52, was the subject of a 2018 Bloomberg News story that described how he traveled the country on behalf of Complete Business Solutions Group, a Philadelphia cash-advance firm that does business as Par Funding. Gioe paid surprise visits to Par’s delinquent borrowers, demanding immediate payment and hinting darkly about the consequences of default.

In an interview for the story, Gioe said he never tried to intimidate anyone, and that customers who were scared might be prejudiced against Italian Americans.

Both Gioe and his onetime boss at Par, Joseph LaForte, denied links to organized crime in the Bloomberg News story. According to the FBI complaint, Gioe was an associate of the Gambino crime family, as was “one of the owners” of Gioe’s employer, an unidentified company whose description matches that of Par. A lawyer for LaForte declined to comment.

Alleging securities fraud, regulators placed Par in receivership last month, and the FBI charged LaForte with criminal possession of firearms. The FBI last week revealed a broad investigation targeting LaForte’s operation, including searches of several of LaForte’s homes and offices.

The charges against Gioe don’t relate directly to his work for his employer, but to a side deal Gioe allegedly struck with a customer.

According to the complaint, Gioe’s employer loaned about $400,000 to the owner of a Toms River, New Jersey business in 2017, and later that year, Gioe confronted the man over missing payments and worked out a repayment schedule. When the customer again had trouble repaying, Gino provided his own loans, eventually totaling $175,000, often in cash, the complaint states.

In 2019, after the borrower failed to repay the personal loan, Gioe showed up at the borrower’s house and angrily confronted him, the complaint states. The borrower called the Toms River police, but declined to pursue charges after they arrived.

Prior to his work in the cash-advance industry, Gioe served prison time for convictions on charges including drug dealing and assault.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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