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Division of Consumer Affairs
Press Release

Attorney General
Anne Milgram
Division of Consumer Affairs, Director
David Szuchman
   
For Immediate Release:
December 5, 2008 
For Further Information Contact:
Jeff Lamm, 973-504-6327
 
Mecca Pilgrims to Receive Restitution from Woodbridge
Travel Agency That Left Them Stranded

NEWARK - Consumers who bought travel packages to Mecca for a religious pilgrimage but instead ended up stranded at an area airport when airline bookings were not made will receive restitution from the Woodbridge travel agency they used, under a Consent Judgment that settles a lawsuit filed by the Office of the Attorney General and the Division of Consumer Affairs.

Defendants USA Haj Mission Corp., doing business as Dar Al Muslimeen USA and Al-Yamama Company USA, and its owner, Syed Ehtesham Naqvi, (also known as Syed Ehtesham Haider) have agreed to pay $23,055 in restitution to four consumers. The defendants also agreed to binding arbitration to settle complaints from nine additional consumers who are seeking a total of $29,355 in restitution.

As part of the settlement, the state and the defendants also agreed to $131,000 in civil penalties. The penalties are suspended, with the stipulation that the defendants comply with all terms of the Consent Judgment and the state's Consumer Fraud Act for a five-year period. If the defendants do not comply, the $131,000 civil penalty will be enforced.

Consumer Affairs received the restitution check for the four consumers on November 25 and will distribute the funds.

“Consumers in some instances were left standing at the airport, with no advance notice about any problems related to their trips,” Attorney General Anne Milgram said. “We expect companies to honor their contracts with consumers and adhere to our consumer protection laws. We are pleased that USA Haj Mission Corp. has agreed to provide refunds to consumers who were denied an opportunity to experience an important religious pilgrimage.”

Throughout 2006, the travel agency advertised and sold the Haj Travel Package, which was represented to include round-trip airfare from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Saudi Arabia as well as hotel accommodations and transportation within Saudi Arabia. At all times, the travel agency was located at 104 Second Street in Woodbridge.

“The planned pilgrimage to Mecca, a highpoint for Muslims, turned into a nightmare for these consumers,” said David Szuchman, Consumer Affairs Director. “Consumers suffer fiscal and emotional loss when companies fail to deliver the products and services that are contracted for and, as in this case, we will take action against those companies.”

The consumers were to depart from JFK International Airport on December 22, 2006 and return from Saudi Arabia on January 7, 2007. In the days leading up to the departure date, defendants notified consumers that they would depart on December 20, 2006. Upon arriving at JFK International Airport for their departure flight, many consumers learned that defendants failed to purchase airline tickets for them. Over the next several days, defendants told consumers that alternative arrangements were being made. It was not until December 23, 2006 that defendants told consumers that the trip was cancelled.

The state filed suit in October, 2007. The court previously granted the state's request for a restraining order to prohibit the defendants from advertising and selling travel packages to Mecca; from disposing of any assets, including monies paid by consumers for travel packages to Mecca; and from disposing of books and records.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Koziar of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section has represented the state in this action.

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