Man jailed for running ‘one stop shop for cannabis and loans’ linked to paramilitaries
A man behind a paramilitary-linked loyalist ‘one-stop shop’ for ‘exorbitant’ loans and cannabis has been given an 18-month sentence.
Despite pleas from the defense not to jail Thomas James Porter, Judge Neill Rafferty QC said that “there must be deterrent sentences” for anyone involved in illegal moneylending as it “attacks the vulnerable people” in society.
Ordering the 46-year-old father-of-three to serve half his sentence in jail and the other half on license, the Antrim Crown Court judge said he was essentially running a ‘one-stop shop for cannabis and the loans”.
“There is an underlying relationship between the accumulation of drug-related debt and accumulated loan sharking,” Judge Rafferty said. “You can see how there was a synergy between the illegal operations.”
At an earlier hearing, Porter, originally from the Shankill area of Belfast but now with an address at Knockleigh Drive in Greenisland, pleaded guilty to supplying Class B cannabis and being an unregulated moneylender between the January 7, 2016 and May 31, 2017.
The charges were laid after officers from the PSNI’s Paramilitary Crime Task Force raided Porter’s home and seized a phone and a ledger containing names and highlighted numbers and amounts.
“It is clear from a reading of the Thai documents that there were active money lending and the type of threats that go along with it,” the judge said.
He revealed that some of the figures were in the thousands and that Porter was charging an “exorbitant 40% interest rate” on the money he lent and “if the borrower missed a payment there was threat of violence”.
The judge further revealed that in the ledger, drug debts were highlighted in green while loan debts were highlighted in blue.
Defense lawyer Conor Coulter had tried to persuade Judge Rafferty not to jail Porter, pointing out that he had significant care responsibilities for his children and elderly mother and that his partner had recently had a holiday important in the hospital.
The judge said that while the defense attorney had “said all he could”, he added that it was clear that Porter “had ties to paramilitary groups” and had a criminal record with ” significant convictions that indicate paramilitary involvement”.
“Loan spoofing preys on vulnerable people who are often desperate and have limited ability to repay, but they will agree to any terms, just to manage their situation,” he said.
“But invariably they are charged extortionate and extortionate interest rates and almost invariably they get trapped in a cycle where they just pay the interest and it is extorted from them under threat of violence.”
The judge warned that such offenses “must result in deterrent prison sentences”.
Welcoming the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Kelly of the police service said: “The partners within the PCTF remain committed to combating the organized crime of those who hide under the banner of a paramilitary organization.
“We will continue to pursue those who cause real harm to their own communities through the distribution and supply of illicit drugs.
“With our partners, we are focused on exposing and countering how paramilitary groups use illegal money lending as a way to control and exploit vulnerable people. The coercion that accompanies illegal money lending means that it is common for victims to feel they have no one to turn to.
“I take this opportunity to ask anyone who is or has been the victim of illegal money lending to contact the police on 101. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”