FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Midwood Travel Agent Indicted For Stealing More Than $350,000 From Over 25 Pakistani Customers; Travel Packages, Tickets Never Purchased
In Addition to Losing Hard-Earned Savings, Victims Missed Pilgrimages to Mecca, Family Celebrations, Including a Wedding
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today announced that a travel agent in Midwood has been arraigned on a 31-count indictment in which he is charged with scheme to defraud, grand larceny and other charges for allegedly taking more than $350,000 from Pakistani immigrants for whom he was supposed to make travel arrangements. Instead, it is alleged, he pocketed their money.
District Attorney Thompson said, “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. We will now vindicate their rights and make sure that the defendant goes to prison for stealing their money and destroying their dreams.”
The District Attorney said that the defendant, Junaid Mirza, 50, of Brooklyn, and his companies, Pearl USA Travel Inc., d/b/a Pearl Travel, of 1064 Coney Island Avenue, in Midwood, and Travel Treat, Inc. , formerly located in the Empire State Building, in Manhattan, was arraigned today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew Sciarrino on a 31-count indictment in which he is charged with two counts of first-degree scheme to defraud, one count of second-degree money laundering, eight counts of third-degree grand larceny, six counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, 10 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, and four counts of issuing a bad check. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, between July 2011 and September 2015, the defendant, at various times, owned and operated travel agencies, doing business as Travel Treat and Pearl Travel, that specialized in the sale of travel packages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and airline tickets to Pakistani immigrants. He advertised discounted trips and tickets in widely-read Urdu language newspapers such as the Pakistan Post and Urdu Times, and in pamphlets distributed in mosques.
All physically and financially capable Muslims must make at least one Hajj, or trip to Mecca, in the fall, once in their lifetime. A Muslim cannot incur debt for their Hajj, making this for many a once-in-a-lifetime event. An Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be taken at any time of the year. Among the victims are taxi cab drivers, home health aides, postal workers and Uber drivers.
It is alleged that the defendant stole amounts ranging from approximately $1,075 to $14,000 from his victims, many of whom he spoke to in Urdu, gaining their trust. The victims paid more than $6,000 per person for a Hajj package, which was supposed to include round-trip airfare, hotels and visas.
The District Attorney said that, according to the investigation, Mirza defrauded his customers in various ways, including guaranteeing low fares in exchange for payment by cash or check, which he would deposit the same day, but failed to provide airline tickets, or in some instances provided victims with receipts and printouts, which he claimed were tickets.
Some of the victims, it is alleged, realized he had not purchased tickets when they called the airline to arrange a special meal or to change a seat number. Others found out when they arrived at the airport, including a bride and her mother, who as a result 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 told by airline staff that the defendant had never purchased their return flight. One non-Pakistani victim and his guests almost missed his granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah, in Tel Aviv, due to the defendant’s alleged deception.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of this defendant is urged to call the District Attorney’s Action Center at 718-250-2340.
The case was investigated by Detective Investigator Justin Gray, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Bureau, under the supervision of Supervising Detective Investigator Phillip O’Rourke and Deputy Chief William Pettie.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Sabrina Thanse, of the District Attorney’s Immigrant Fraud Unit, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Kin Ng, Chief of the Immigrant Fraud Unit, and Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division, under the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.