Crooked travel agent could see extended prison stay

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Chicago travel agent stole millions from Muslims trying to make travel arrangements for their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Mecca. Now, the government wants to give him an extended stay in prison.

Rashid Minhas preyed on the prayerful. An I-Team investigation first exposed his scheme four years ago. As part of scheme, Minhas signed up Muslim faithful for their trip to Mecca and then keep their money without delivering visas or plane tickets.

Minhas was convicted last February. He will be sentenced next week.

Muslims are expected to complete a pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj, before they die. For some, a lifetime of savings pay for the trip.

Hundreds of the faithful each gave thousands of dollars to Minhas.

In 2011, the I-Team discovered that Minhas never used their money on the tickets and accommodations that were promised. He stole it.

Despite nasty meetings with jilted travelers, most never saw a dime of their money returned. Minhas claimed he didn't intend to fleece anyone, but simply wasn't able to obtain enough visas to Saudi Arabia.

Prosecutors didn't buy it.

According to federal court records, federal prosecutors will ask for a stiff sentence --- between 14-and-a-half and 18-and-a-half years in prison.

Prosecutors said Minhas is responsible for an intended loss of more than $1.1 million that he purposely sought to steal. They said Minhas spent the victims' money on himself and his then-wife. On one occasion, with his customers stranded at home instead of praying at mecca, Minhas was at Disneyworld.

In a new court filing, Minhas' attorney maintains that the father of three can be a productive member to society, provide restitution, and provide for his family if he is given a minimal prison sentence.

The travel agent's lawyer also suggests a sentence not involving further jail time.
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