Federal prosecutors have charged two Baltimore County men with attempted extortion, alleging the pair threatened and planned to kill a county restaurant owner who failed to pay a lender more than $400,000 of accrued debt, according to a complaint unsealed last week.
Timonium resident Clement Robert Mercaldo, Jr., 61, and 29-year-old Stepfen Gerard Gaither of Randallstown are accused of engaging in a murder for hire plot, threatening bodily harm and setting fire to the restaurateur’s home to coerce the unnamed restaurant owner into paying back loans borrowed from Mercaldo, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Gaither and Mercaldo — son of the late Clement Robert Mercaldo Sr., who in 1971 was appointed by former Gov. Marvin Mandel as commissioner of what was then called the Workmen’s Compensation Commission — have each been charged with collection of credit by extortionate means and interstate communications with intent to extort, and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
According to an affidavit, Mercaldo gave an interest-only loan in the amount of $100,000 to a business acquaintance in 2008 to start a restaurant. Mercaldo allegedly stated he did not want paperwork documenting an agreement to receive monthly cash payments amortized over 10 years, during which time the loan recipient would then sell his business, giving Mercaldo half of the money.
The restaurant owner’s name has been redacted from court files.
When the business owner did not pay in-full the $439,000 in debt owed to Mercaldo by 2019, he began receiving threatening text messages and phone calls regarding the outstanding payment, according to the affidavit. His car windshield was smashed in April 2019, and in August a basement fire that county fire investigators determined was intentionally set caused $50,000 worth of damage to the man’s home, which he and his wife then vacated, according to court documents.
Mercaldo told investigating Baltimore County police in April prior to the fire that he has also been receiving threatening text messages, and that someone entered his home in Florida by unknown means and smashed the window of his Mercedes parked inside his garage. This occurred after he loaned out money that he had borrowed from a Michigan-based lender, whom Mercaldo said he was unable to pay back because he did not receive payment from the restaurant owner.
Court documents allege that the restaurant owner received several text messages from multiple numbers referencing the fire and threatening to kill him. In text messages exchanged between Mercaldo and Gaither from October to January, investigators said Mercaldo solicited Gaither to kill the restaurant owner. Photos exchanged between Mercaldo and Gaither show Gaither was attempting to follow the man, and carrying a semiautomatic handgun.
Investigators say Gaither was conducting surveillance on the restauranteur at his home and business “in preparation for planned future crimes,” according to the affidavit.
Mercaldo and Gaither were denied bail at a detention hearing Friday, June 26. An arraignment date had not been set as of Monday.
A public defender has been appointed to represent Mercaldo. An attorney representing Gaither is not listed in online court documents.
In other police and public safety news, the following are compiled from local police reports.
Yakona Road, 1800 block, 21234. June 19, 2:20 a.m. Vehicle ransacked; three juveniles arrested.
Emge Road, 8700 block, 21234. June 19, 2 a.m. Vehicle ransacked; three juveniles arrested.
Wayne Avenue, 1700 block, 21234. June 19, 12:16 a.m. Vehicle ransacked; three juveniles arrested.
Overbrook Road, 900 block, 21239. June 18, 8 p.m. Cash stolen from unlocked vehicle.
Emge Road, 8700 block, 21234. June 19, 12 a.m. Vehicle ransacked; one arrested.
Crestwood Road, 6500 block, 21239. June 18, 8:30 p.m. Vehicle ransacked.
Watkins Glen Court, unit block, 21030. June 21, 12:30 a.m. 2018 White Nissan Altima stolen, man assaulted.