Yesterday, a Midwood travel agent was sentenced to up to 6 years in prison for pocketing $350,000 from Pakistani immigrants for whom he was supposed to make travel arrangements to Mecca.
Junaid Mirza, 51, was sentenced to 2 to 6 years in state prison following his guilty plea earlier this month to grand larceny. He was indicted last April.
“Many of the victims of this defendant were hardworking Pakistani immigrants who were cheated out of a lifelong dream of taking a pilgrimage to Mecca. Today’s prison sentence is a small measure of justice for them, but represents my Office’s commitment to protecting the immigrant community from con men who seek to prey on them,” said Acting District Attorney Gonzalez.
Between July 2011 and September 2015, Mirza owned and operated Travel Treat and Pearl Travel, which specialized in the sale of travel packages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and airline tickets to Pakistani immigrants, the DA’s office said.
Mirza 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 singular event.)
Mirza allegedly 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 DA’s office said.
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 allegedly realized Mirza had not purchased their 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 on their way to Pakistan, and a parent traveling alone with three young children, who were stranded in an airport in Pakistan when they discovered that Mirza had never purchased their return flight.