Tuesday, March 14, 2017

7th Circuit Upholds Enhanced Sentence For Hajj Fraud Defendant

In United States v. Minhas, (7th Cir., March 10, 2017), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 114 month prison sentence imposed on a travel agent convicted in two separate cases of wire and mail fraud. One of the cases involved selling 54 customers purported Hajj travel packages when defendant was unable to provide the necessary visas for travel to Saudi Arabia.  The district court imposed sentence enhancement under the Sentencing Guidelines because the offense resulted in substantial financial hardship to the victims.  The appeals court upheld the district court's consideration of victims as a group rather than individually in making this determination.  The court added:
It is also worth noting that the district court understood that, at least in the Lightstar Hajj case, the harm was not just the loss of money, but was also a spiritual injury inflicted when it became impossible for the victim to make the hajj.... While being deprived of this opportunity (for a year at the very least) may not constitute a financial loss in the traditional sense of losing dollars from a bank account, it is a significant alteration in life circumstances, as are many of the factors pertinent to interpreting “substantial financial hardship”....