Originally published on Aug. 8, 2006
Businessman John Gill Jr. could face up to 30 years in prison after a felony conviction in Florida involving what prosecutors termed a business ruse to get around lending laws.
Gill, 48, of 402 River Oak Way, Phenix City, was found guilty by a Pensacola, Fla., jury of unlawfully conducting a business enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, said Gerry Champagne, assistant state attorney for Escambia County. The charge could carry a prison term of 34 1/2 months to 30 years.
Gill owns more than 400 Muscogee County properties that include everything from shotgun houses to strip malls. He is currently out on $125,000 bond, pending his Sept. 6 sentencing.
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"There was a lot of evidence," Champagne said. "Lots of victims."
The two-man, four-woman jury took about 90 minutes Thursday evening to find Gill guilty, concluding a nine-day trial. Florida law allows trial by a panel of at least six jurors in felony trials, except for murder and certain other offenses.
A pre-sentencing investigation will be completed before sentencing, and it will be used as a consideration when the sentence is given, Champagne said.
Accusations of predatory lending have followed Gill across several states, including Georgia. In the Florida case, Gill was accused of operating an illegal loan company under the guise of a business that sold time on the Internet.
"You'd come in and sign this contract," Champagne said. "You'd borrow $500 and sign a contract that said you'd get $600, but he'd take the first $100 as the first payment."
Borrowers would then have to return every two weeks and make a $100 payment. If someone canceled the contract, he would have to pay a penalty fee.
The defense argued the contract was part of a legitimate business offering a connection to the Internet. The prosecution disagreed.
"The service was used very rarely," Champagne said. "People just wanted the money. It was, in fact, a loan --- a usurious loan."
Gill, who was out on bond during his trial, was once again taken into custody Thursday evening after his conviction. His original bond was revoked and he was given a new bond, which he posted Friday morning.
Champagne has been pursuing a civil case against Gill using the same facts as the criminal case, though it may be dropped depending on the sentence.
"I'm seeking restitution for all the victims, penalties and fines," Champagne said. "It's over $100,000."