Before he went to prison, and before he was released on orders from President Donald Trump, Jonathan Braun was a prolific predatory lender. In eight years he advanced almost $80 million to small-business owners across the U.S. He targeted those desperate enough to accept extreme interest rates—often higher than 1,000% a year—and when they inevitably fell behind, he squeezed them for more money. He bullied some and menaced others. “You suck, you’re dead, you’re a piece of shit, you should drop f---ing dead,” Braun told one of his clients in an exchange caught on video. Often he would use dubious legal tactics to drain their bank accounts.
Even as borrowers complained in court that they’d been frightened by his threats and ruined by his ripoffs, Braun faced no punishment. It wasn’t that the authorities were unaware of him. In fact he’d been operating as a loan shark while out on bail after a 2010 arrest on unrelated federal drug-trafficking charges, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice. His trial was delayed for years without explanation.