‘Haj travel agent’ in US charged with conning Pakistanis out of over $350,000

NEW YORK: A New York travel agent who was charged with conning Pakistani immigrants wanting to go for Haj or travel home out of more than $350,000 appeared in court Thursday.

Junaid Mirza, 50, who operated travel agencies in Brooklyn and one previously located in the Empire State Building was charged on 31 counts that include scheme to defraud, money laundering and grand larceny. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

“Many of the victims were hard working Pakistani immigrants who trusted the defendant and were cheated out of a lifelong dream of making a pilgrimage to Makkah,” said Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson.

Mirza allegedly owned travel agencies that specialised in selling travel packages to Saudi Arabia and airline tickets to Pakistani immigrants from July 2011 to September 2015.

Mirza advertised discounted trips in local Urdu-language newspapers and in pamphlets distributed in mosques, New York prosecutors said.

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

Some victims only found out they had been conned when they arrived at the airport, including a bride who missed part of her wedding festivities in Pakistan as a result, prosecutors said.

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

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