A loan shark who preyed on sick, poor and vulnerable members of society, sometimes charging them up to 8,000 per cent in interest, was jailed for nearly four years yesterday.
Mark Washington Johnson showed a "sustained, calculated and cruel disregard" for his victims, some of whom had mental illness or disabilities, Birmingham Crown Court heard.
The 38-year-old took social security benefit books or National Insurance numbers as "security" for the unauthorised loans and piled default charges on to his clients for missed payments.
Meanwhile Johnson, of Hall Green, Birmingham, profited from his illegal activities despite claiming to be on benefits, spending between #30,000 and #40,000 on a high-performance BMW 330 convertible and Porsche Cayenne sports car.
And although a first-time buyer, he also tried to secure a #380,000 mortgage on a #460,000 house.
The mortgage application, which failed, was said to have been "worthy of a Booker nomination" and stated his annual income as #132,000, the court was told.
Jailing him for three years and nine months, Recorder Andrew Tidbury told Johnson he had profited at the expense of some of the most unfortunate and needy members of society.
"Your business inevitably preyed on the weakest members of the community. These were people who had no one else who would lend them money," he said.
"In that way, it was suggested you were doing a service to them. The reality was to the contrary.
"You were lending money at exorbitant rates of interest with terms of repayment they would find it impossible to police and comply with. These offences are so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified."
Johnson, known to some clients as "Arnie", sat in the dock throughout proceedings wearing dark glasses.
Before being taken away to start his sentence, he turned to the press benches and said: "I'm really sorry for what I've been doing."
He pleaded guilty last month to carrying on a consumer credit business without a licence between April 2002 and October 2004.
He also admitted three counts of blackmail, one of possessing criminal property, another of attempted deception in relation to the mortgage application and a further charge of unlawfully obtaining a disability benefit book.
The case is the first brought by Birmingham City Council's specialist loan shark investigation team, which was set up as part of a national initiative to combat the "evil" of loan sharking, the court was told.
David Travers, prosecuting, said many of Johnson's clients, who were referred to him by word of mouth, relied on social security benefits to live day-to-day.
He lent them sums upwards of #100, in some cases taking their benefits books "in case they did a runner".
A #100 loan would be paid off at #20 per week while a #500 loan would be paid back at #50 per week.
But the loans incurred #80 and #480 interest respectively and Johnson did not tell his clients when the money had been paid back.
Mr Travers, who described Johnson's operation as a " furtive, comprehensive, unlawful business", said: "The rates of interest were between 4,000 and 8,000 per cent.
"They were one or two orders of magnitude above even the most usurious money lenders."
Default on payments incurred penalties and in several instances Johnson threatened and intimidated those who could not pay.
One of those left "petrified" by him was recovering from a stroke while another was told: "I will send my cronies round if you miss any payments."
The judge described the threats, which were never carried out, as "chilling and disturbing".
Johnson, a father-of-two, admitted being a loan shark after his arrest but maintained he only made about #200 a week from his activities.
He claimed to have had "genial relations" with his clients and did not demand money with menaces. He also claimed to have been working for someone else but that person has never been traced.
Sunit Sandhu, defending, argued that Johnson's clients accepted loans "with their eyes wide open" and suggested the allegations of threats were in reality "a bit of bullying".
He added: "This was not target sales, to use the phrase, but people who knew what they were getting into."