DA: Francis Bongarzone charged in loan-sharking scheme
A Wantagh man faces usury and weapons charges after authorities said they spent more than a year investigating his alleged loan- sharking enterprise.
Francis Bongarzone, 53, collected more than 100 percent interest a year on loans he made to at least six people, and threatened borrowers if they couldn't repay him, authorities said.
Bongarzone, who authorities said also goes by Frankie Chase, pleaded not guilty yesterday to usury and multiple counts of criminal possession of a weapon.
Authorities said he faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted.
Court records show police on Thursday seized three loaded guns, two knives and a blackjack from Bongarzone's home on Old Mill Road. Investigators said they also seized records of his alleged loan activities.
Felony complaints show Bongarzone has a 1984 conviction for second-degree criminal solicitation.
In asking for $1-million bail, authorities said at Bongarzone's District Court arraignment in Hempstead that he was convicted of soliciting someone else to commit murder-for-hire to silence a witness.
An assistant district attorney also said Bongarzone was implicated as a triggerman in the murder of his brother-in-law, a crime for which Bongarzone's sister is serving 25 years to life in prison.
Defense attorney Stephen LaMagna objected to the government's high bail request, saying his client hadn't had an arrest in 31 years.
He accused the prosecution of making reckless statements that weren't supported by proof and called Bongarzone the primary caregiver for his children, ages 5 and 12, saying he has "tremendous roots" in the community.
Judge Joy Watson set the defendant's bail at $250,000 and ordered him back to court on Wednesday.
In a statement, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice asked other potential victims of Bongarzone's "brand of banking" to come forward.