Man Pardoned by Trump Fined $20M

Authorities say Jonathan Braun ran network of predatory lenders
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2024 6:20 PM CST
Man Pardoned by Trump Fined $20M
A sign stands outside the Federal Trade Commission building in Washington.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Drug smuggler-turned-loan shark Jonathan Braun was pardoned by Donald Trump for the drug smuggling but he hasn't gotten off scot-free for running what authorities say was a network of predatory lenders. Braun was fined $20 million on Tuesday, almost double what a jury had recommended, by a federal judge in New York who slammed his "egregious" behavior, the New York Times reports. Federal District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said Braun made violent threats to borrowers and "gleefully" boasted about breaking the law. The judge cited a video in which Braun used numerous insults and obscenities as he threatened to send a business owner to jail—and spit in his face on visiting day.

"The evidence showed that Mr. Braun blatantly ignored or disregarded consumer complaints and spewed vile threats and profanities when a consumer was purportedly unable to pay his debts," Rakoff wrote in his ruling. "Mr. Braun's conduct toward consumers was completely out of bounds and inappropriate." Braun was sued by the Federal Trade Commission and New York's attorney general months before Trump pardoned him on his last day in office. Braun, whose family has connections to Jared Kushner's family, had been serving a 10-year sentence for running a marijuana-smuggling ring. Authorities said he returned to predatory lending after his release.

Braun "has threatened small-business owners with violence, death and even kidnapping," New York Attorney General Letitia James said after his release in 2021. He has now been barred from working in the merchant cash advance business nationwide. The Times reports that before the pardon, authorities had been working on a deal to release him in return for help convicting his former colleagues, but prosecutors lost their leverage when Trump pardoned him. (More presidential pardon stories.)

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