Flowering marijuana plants grow at the Smokey Point Productions facility in Arlington, Washington, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Bloomberg)

Jonathan Braun, a marijuana trafficker who built a predatory lending company while free on bail, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on drug-smuggling charges.

Braun, 36, had pleaded guilty in 2011, but his sentencing was delayed without explanation. In the interim, he became a major player in what’s called the merchant cash-advance industry.

From the Manhattan office of Richmond Capital Group LLC, he advanced money to small businesses across the country at interest rates that would exceed 400% on an annual basis. In interviews for a Bloomberg News story last year, a dozen borrowers said Braun had cheated them, sometimes threatening to leave them penniless, or worse. Rivals said Braun bragged that he made millions of dollars a month, and they marveled that he did it all while wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet. Braun and Richmond denied the allegations at the time.

At the sentencing hearing in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto denied a request by Braun’s lawyer for the sentencing to be held in secret. Many documents in the case are sealed.

Braun, wearing a blue blazer and an open-collar white shirt, asked for leniency as his supporters looked on. Many of them had written letters saying he was a changed man and a contributor to his community.

“I’m really sorry for my wrongdoings in the past,” Braun told the judge. “I have many, many reasons to continue to do good in the future.”

Anonymous Letters

But the judge said she had received anonymous letters about Braun and reviewed lawsuits in which one borrower accused Braun of threatening him. Another person alleged that Braun pushed him off a deck. She read aloud from the allegations and asked the prosecutor whether the government was sure Braun had not committed additional crimes.

Craig Heeren, an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said he didn’t know of anything the court needed to be aware of. He said the FBI looked into the allegations and that Braun had said they weren’t true. He didn’t say what sentence the government was asking for.

Braun was a drug-smuggling prodigy. The New York Post called him a “mama’s boy drug dealer” because he was living with his ultra-Orthodox Jewish parents in their modest Staten Island home when he was arrested in 2010. Federal prosecutors said Braun worked with the three most powerful organized-crime groups in Canada and coordinated shipments of more than 200,000 pounds of marijuana, raking in as much as $6 million a week.

Braun listened impassively as the judge announced his prison sentence and a $100,000 fine. He was allowed to leave on his own and given three months to get his affairs in order before turning himself in. He will get credit for the 17 months he served before he was let out on bail.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zeke Faux in New York at zfaux@bloomberg.net;Zachary R. Mider in New York at zmider1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeffrey D Grocott at jgrocott2@bloomberg.net, Robert Friedman, Joe Schneider

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.