Chicago Travel Agent Arrested on Federal Fraud Charge for Allegedly Swindling Muslim Pilgrims of Hajj Travel Packages
CHICAGO—A Chicago travel agent was arrested today on a federal fraud charge for allegedly cheating at least 50 customers of approximately $525,000 by misrepresenting his ability to sell travel packages for the Hajj that included the visa required to enter Saudi Arabia.
The defendant, RASHID MINHAS, 42, of Chicago, was charged with mail fraud in a criminal complaint that was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court and unsealed this morning following his arrest. He was scheduled to appear at 1:30 p.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan in Federal Court.
Minhas was arrested without incident by FBI agents at his residence on the north side of Chicago. Agents also executed a federal search warrant at his business, Light Star Hajj Group, located at 5801 Northwest Hwy., Chicago. Minhas previously operated a travel agency in Chicago called City Travel & Tours.
According to the complaint affidavit, between March and November 2014, Minhas falsely represented that Hajj travel packages for September and October of this year included required Saudi Arabia entry visas. Minhas allegedly knew that Light Star Hajj was not authorized 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 $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.
The affidavit describes the Hajj as an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims, and must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. This year, the Hajj pilgrimage was from Oct. 2-7, and each year, approximately two million pilgrims attend the Hajj.
The complaint states that agents reviewed Light Star’s bank records and determined that approximately $525,000 was deposited this year from the sale of Hajj travel packages. An additional $586,000 was deposited from other sources, including the sale of Umrah travel packages, cash deposits and transfers. Agents determined that approximately $745,000 was spent on expenditures that were not related to Hajj travel packages, including $159,000 in checks to cash, $339,000 in transfers to individuals in Pakistan, approximately $49,000 in checks to Minhas’ former wife, and other expenses.
The arrest and charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert J. Holley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The government is being represented by Assistant United States Attorneys Kenneth E. Yeadon and Kathryn Malizia.
A complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.