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‘Travel agent’ presented before court on Hajj fraud

NEW YORK: A New York travel representative who was accused of defrauding Pakistani immigrants desiring to go for Hajj or travel home out of more than $350,000 appeared in court Thursday.

Junaid Mirza, 50, who ran travel agencies in Brooklyn and one formerly located in the Empire State Building was charged on 31 counts that contain scheme to deceive, money laundering and grand larceny. He faces up to 15 years in prison if acquitted, prosecutors said.

Many of the sufferers were hard working Pakistani immigrants who relied upon the defendant and were cheated out of a lifetime dream of making a pilgrimage to Makkah, said Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson.

Mirza purportedly maintained travel agencies that focussed in selling travel packages to Saudi Arabia and airline tickets to Pakistani immigrants from July 2011 to September 2015.

Mirza promoted cut-price trips in local Urdu-language newspapers and in brochures distributed in mosques, New York prosecutors said.

The victims, who included taxi drivers and home health assistants, supposedly paid more than $6,000 per person for a Haj package, but prosecutors said Mirza snaffled the cash and failed to book the airline seats.

Some victims only found out they had been defrauded when they reached at the airport, including a bride who missed part of her marriage celebrations in Pakistan as a result, prosecutors said.

Other victims were a parent travelling with three young children who were stuck at an airport in Pakistan when they were told by the airline that the offender had never procured their return flight.