Washington: A Pakistani American national has been arrested in Chicago on charges of defrauding Hajj pilgrims, the US Justice Department said on Friday.
Rashid Minhas, 42, a resident of Chicago, is scheduled to be produced before a city court later in the day.
Chicago-based travel agent Minhas has been accused of federal fraud for allegedly cheating at least 50 customers of approximately USD 525,000 by misrepresenting his ability to sell travel packages for the Hajj pilgrimage that included visas required to enter Saudi Arabia.
Quite a substantial amount of this money was sent to Pakistan, federal authorities said.
According to the complaint affidavit, between March and November 2014, Minhas falsely represented that Hajj travel packages for September and October of this year required Saudi Arabia entry visas.
Minhas allegedly knew that Light Star Hajj travel agency was not authorised by Saudi Arabia to obtain visas and that he did not intend to obtain the required Hajj visas.
He sold travel deals to at least 50 customers and deposited approximately USD 525,000 he collected into Light Star's bank accounts, and then commingled those funds with other deposits and used the money to make partial refunds to customers, to transfer funds to Pakistan, and to pay personal expenses, the complaint alleges.
This year, the Hajj pilgrimage was held from October 2-7.
The complaint states that agents reviewed Light Star's bank records and determined that approximately USD 525,000 was deposited this year from the sale of Hajj travel packages.
An additional USD 586,000 was deposited from other sources, including the sale of Umrah travel packages, cash deposits and transfers.
Agents determined that approximately USD 745,000 was spent on expenditures that were not related to Hajj travel packages, including USD 159,000 in checks to cash, USD 339,000 in transfers to individuals in Pakistan, approximately USD 49,000 in checks to Minhas' former wife, and other expenses, the complaint said.