Jailed Shankill UDA chief was once charged with robbing MLA's sister after game-show win
Thomas Porter was a notorious money lender and had spread misery in loyalist areas with his 40 per cent interest rates on illegal loans
Shankill UDA chief Thomas Porter, jailed this week, was once charged with an armed robbery on the sister of an MLA who'd just won a windfall on TV show Deal or No Deal.
The 46-year-old was sentenced on Thursday for 18 months at Antrim Crown Court for dealing drugs and loan-sharking for the West Belfast UDA.
Porter was a notorious money lender and had spread misery in loyalist areas with his 40 per cent interest rates on illegal loans.
The judge described Porter, who used violence on those who couldn't make their debt repayments, as "preying upon the vulnerable" with his "extortionate loans".
But we can reveal the caged loyalist had dodged prison after serious charges connected to an armed raid were mysteriously dropped.
Porter had appeared in court in December 2014 accused of being part of a masked gang that raided the home of Ballymena woman Linda Moore, the sister of DUP Assemblyman Paul Frew.
Linda Moore had just appeared on Noel Edmonds' Deal or No Deal show and walked away with £23,000.
Having refused offers from the Banker of £10,000, she scooped more than double - only to discover had she held her nerve, there was actually £35,000 in her box.
Not long after her very public win, a masked and armed gang went to her home, assaulted her and her husband and walked away with thousands of pounds.
Porter had been arrested from his then Hopewell Crescent home on the Shankill in west Belfast, along with prominent Shankill loyalist Dee Coleman, although Coleman was never charged.
Porter and a second man from east Belfast faced a list of serious offences when they appeared at North Antrim Court eight years ago.
They were both charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, possessing a pistol with intent to commit aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary, causing grievous bodily harm with intent to a male and common assault of Linda Moore.
Porter was further charged with dangerous driving, failing to stop and failing to remain or report an accident.
But the charges were all mysteriously withdrawn without explanation at the time.
"Nobody could understand why the PPS dropped the charges on Porter at the time," said a loyalist source.
"They seemed pretty sure when they arrested him that they had their man. They even dropped the dangerous driving offences."
Having had those charges dropped, Porter ended up moving to Carrickfergus where he launched his own drug and loan-shark empire.
Porter, who told the court he had a "tough" childhood growing up in the Shankill, was using age-old tactics of high-interest money lending to vulnerable and desperate victims.
He then put pressure on them when they couldn't meet his repayment demands.
Many of his victims couldn't repay him, mainly due to their already desperate plight and the fact he was charging a whopping 40 per cent interest, so Porter dished out punishment in the form of violence and threats of violence.
To make matters worse and maximise his profits, Porter, from Knockleigh Drive in Greenisland, was even creating debt-ridden customers for himself by selling them cannabis.
The father of three was sentenced for supplying class B cannabis and being an unregulated money lender on dates between January 7 2016 and May 31 2017.
Handed an 18-month sentence - half behind bars and half on licence - Porter was told by Judge Neil Rafferty QC that his "one-stop shop" for "extortionate" loans and cannabis "preys upon the vulnerable" in society.
Warning that "there must be deterrent sentences" for anyone involved in illegal money lending, the judge said "there's an underlying relation between the accruing of drug debt and the accrued loan sharking... one can see how there was a synergy between the illegal operations".
Porter was originally scooped in May 2017 by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) when, while they were investigating the West Belfast UDA, they raided his house and seized a phone and a ledger which contained names and highlighted figures and amounts.
With drug debts highlighted in green and loan debts highlighted in blue, Porter was charging an "extortionate rate 40 per cent interest" on the money he loaned on amounts ranging from just a few pounds up to thousands and "if the borrower missed a payment, there was the threat of violence".
"He is purporting to be a front for more sinister figures and the threat is that these figures are not to be trifled with," said Judge Rafferty, adding that his "significant convictions are an indication of paramilitary involvement".
Speaking outside court on Thursday, Detective Chief Inspector Kelly said: "Partners within the PCTF remain committed to tackling the organised criminality of those who hide under the banner of a paramilitary organisation. We will continue to pursue those who cause real harm to their own communities through the distribution and supply of illicit drugs.
"Along with our partners, we're focused on highlighting and addressing how paramilitary groups use illegal money lending as a means to control and exploit vulnerable people.
"The coercion that comes with illegal money lending means that it's common for victims to feel that they have no-one to turn to.
"I'm taking this opportunity to ask anyone who is, or has been, a victim of illegal money lending to contact police on 101. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."
Victims of money lenders can find help on www.endingtheharm.com.
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