A Brooklyn travel agent has been arraigned on a 31-count indictment in which he is charged with scheme to defraud, grand larceny and more for allegedly swindling Pakistani immigrants out of over $350,000, announced District Attorney Ken Thompson on Thursday, April 7.
According to the indictment, between July, 2011 and September, 2015, the defendant – 50-year-old Junaid Mirza of Travel Treat in Manhattan and Pearl Travel in Midwood – advertised discounted trips and tickets to Mecca, Saudi Arabia in widely-read Urdu language newspapers such as the Pakistan Post and Urdu Times, and in pamphlets distributed in mosques, as part of an ongoing scam.
All physically and financially capable Muslims must make at least one Hajj – a trip to Mecca – in the fall, once in their lifetime. Furthermore, a Muslim may not incur debt in making a Hajj, making this for many a once-in-a-lifetime event.
It is alleged that Mirza pocketed amounts ranging from $1,075 to $14,000 from his victims, many of whom he spoke to in Urdu to gain their trust. Victims paid more than $6,000 per person for a Hajj package, which Mirza promised would include round-trip airfare, hotels and visas.
A number of Mirza’s victims did not find out that their tickets weren’t purchased until they arrived at the airport, including a bride and her mother who, as a result of Mirza’s scam, missed part of the wedding festivities in Pakistan. Other victims, including a parent traveling alone with three young children, were stranded in an airport in Pakistan when they were informed by airline staff that their travel agent had never purchased their return flights.
“Many of the victims were hardworking Pakistani immigrants who trusted the defendant and were cheated out of a lifelong dream of taking a pilgrimage to Mecca,” said Thompson. “We will now vindicate their rights and make sure that the defendant goes to prison for stealing their money and destroying their dreams.”
Mirza faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.