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Florida court rejects Phenix City lender’s appeal

Originally published March 14, 2009

John Gill Jr., the Phenix City businessman convicted in 2006 on a racketeering charge, has had his conviction upheld by a Florida appeals court.

Gill once ran payday lending operations across the nation, including in Columbus. He was convicted by a Pensacola, Fla., jury in August 2006 of unlawfully conducting a business enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. Accusations of predatory lending had followed Gill across several states, and in Florida he was accused of operating an illegal loan company under the guise of a business that sold time on the Internet.

A judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison, followed by 10 on probation. Gill, however, appealed to Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal, which affirmed the conviction Feb. 27.

Gill had been given a $1 million appeal bond, though he is now required to start serving his sentence, the Pensacola News Journal reported.

In the Florida case, Gill was accused of operating an illegal loan company. A customer would borrow $500 and sign a contract that said he would get $600, but Gill would take the first $100 as the first payment, prosecutors said.

Borrowers would then have to return every two weeks and make a $100 payment. If someone canceled the contract, that person would have to pay a penalty fee, prosecutors said.

Gill’s case was the first criminal case of that nature brought against a payday lender, said Russ Edgar, assistant state attorney.

Edgar said the law allows restitution of up to three times what was taken — in this case, $1.5 million. Gill once had an interest in more than 400 Muscogee County properties, including shotgun houses and strip malls.