Community News (V9-I42)

New Jersey travel agency accused of Hajj fraud

NEWARK – The Attorney General’s Office and the Division of Consumer Affairs have filed a Consumer Fraud Act suit against a Woodbridge travel agency that sold travel packages for religious pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that were never provided.

The state’s four-count complaint was filed in State Superior Court in Middlesex County against Shama Hajj Ziyarat Tours, L.L.C., also doing business as Karwan-E-Iman-E-Sajjad (USA), and its owner, Molana Syed Alihaider Abidi. The travel agency is located at 104 Second Street in Woodbridge.

Throughout 2006, the defendants advertised and sold the Hajj 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. More than 50 consumers each paid in excess of $4,500 for the trip, with some consumers paying an additional $1,000 for purportedly upgraded hotel accommodations.

The consumers were to depart from JFK Airport on December 20, 2006 and return from Saudi Arabia on January 4, 2007. Upon arriving at JFK Airport for their departure flight, consumers learned that there were no airline tickets purchased for them. During the period of December 22 to 24, 2006, defendants told consumers that the trip was cancelled.

“We are seeking restitution for consumers who suffered both financially and emotionally,’‘ Attorney General Anne Milgram said. “These last minute cancellations without explanation cost consumers thousands of dollars and prevented them from making a pilgrimage to Mecca.’‘

As part of the division’s action, the court has granted a request for a temporary 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. The state is seeking to make the order permanent.

“We are aware that this travel agency is advertising and selling a December 2007 travel package to Mecca. Given the company’s cancellation of the 2006 trip and failure to provide refunds, we are seeking to stop the advertisement and sale of the 2007 trip,” said Acting Consumer Affairs Director Larry DeMarzo.

The state’s complaint alleges that the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud Act and General Advertising Regulations by the following:

a.. Increasing the price of the 2006 Hajj Travel Package without explanation;
b.. Accepting payment for the 2006 Hajj Travel Package and then failing to provide consumers with the trip to Mecca;
c.. Upon cancellation of the 2006 Hajj Travel Package, leading consumers to believe that alternative travel arrangements were being made;
d.. Failing to provide consumers with advance notice that the 2006 Hajj Travel Package had been cancelled, to permit consumers to make their own alternative arrangements for the trip to Mecca;
e.. Promising, then failing to provide consumers with complete refunds following cancellation of the 2006 Hajj Travel Package; and
f.. Failing to disclose to consumers that the purchase price would not be refunded if the 2006 Hajj Travel Package was cancelled.

By its complaint, the state seeks restitution for affected consumers, maximum civil penalties, reimbursement of its attorneys’ fees and costs and compliance with the Consumer Fraud Act.

The Consumer Fraud Act provides for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for the initial violation and up to $20,000 for each subsequent violation.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Koziar is representing the state in this matter.

Muslim inmate sues Missouri jail

SPRINGFIELD, MO–A Muslim inmate is suing a southwest Missouri jail, claiming the facility’s administrators violated his religious rights by feeding him sandwiches with a pork product concealed in them.

Odell M. Edwards, as a Muslim, is prohibited from eating pork. Jail officials maintain that the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches did not contain pork, just fruit pectin extracted from plants. Pectin is a natural substance that thickens jams and jellies.

But Edwards said the jelly in the sandwiches contained gelatin, which is often extracted from pig tissue. He appears to be seeking $250,000 per day for the period in which he was served the jelly.

Edwards, a federal prisoner, is awaiting trial in Springfield on drug charges. He’s been an inmate since April 2006.

First Iftar dinner held at University of Nevada

LAS VEGAS–The Muslims Students Association at University of Nevada organized its first ever Iftar dinner and it turned out to be a big success.

Members from the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Newman Center, where the event was held, students from the Latter Day Saints Institute of Religion Center, professors and local members of the Muslim community were among the nearly 100 attendants at the event, reports the student newspaper.

Azam Bir, a sophomore in the management information systems department from Bangladesh and the outreach coordinator of the MSA, noted that while his father has experienced prejudice and discrimination in other parts of the country, he has found Las Vegas and specifically UNLV to be an extremely open and peaceful place to be a Muslim.

After a call to prayer and the evening prayer, non-Muslim dinner guests joined Muslims who broke their fast and were invited to ask questions and openly discuss Islam.

In turn, Muslim attendants also learned more about the other religious-based groups on campus, with students asking about similarities in prayers and traditions, along with the more secular conversations addressing experiences at UNLV and areas of study.

Dr. Zafeer Ahmed, appointed VP, Manufacturing of Bradmer Pharma

TORONTO–Bradmer Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the development and commercialization of cancer therapies, today announced that it has appointed Zafeer Ahmad, Ph.D, to the position of Vice President, Manufacturing Operations, and that it has accepted the resignation of Kerry M. Barnhart, Ph.D, as President and Chief Scientific Officer effective November 1, 2007. Chief Executive Officer Alan M. Ezrin, Ph.D. will assume the additional role of President.

“Dr. Ahmad brings a wealth of knowledge in late-stage drug development. As we prepare to submit our proposed multi-center Phase III trial protocol and manufacturing data for Neuradiab to the FDA, Dr. Ahmad’s experience in working with contract research and contract manufacturing organizations will be indispensable to Bradmer. Zafeer will also be a strong addition to our team as we complete the validation and transfer of drug production from Duke University to a commercial manufacturer,” said Dr. Ezrin, Chief Executive Officer of Bradmer. “Dr. Barnhart made a significant contribution to Bradmer

at an early stage and we wish him our best as he pursues other opportunities. His decision to leave at this stage, after we’ve recruited a team with broad experience in preparation for initiating the Phase III trial, will allow us to make a seamless transition in the roles and responsibilities of the existing management team.”

Dr. Ahmad most recently held the position of Vice President, Process Development and Manufacturing at NeoPharm, Inc. Prior to his work with NeoPharm, Dr. Ahmad held senior positions at GlaxoSmithKline plc and Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. He has more than 19 years of industry experience in drug development, aseptic manufacturing operations, facility design and validation, batch record and SOP preparation, outsourcing, tech transfer, process validation and regulatory submission of drugs. Based on this experience, Dr. Ahmad has a strong working knowledge of cGMP and CMC documentation for IND and BLA preparation. From an academic perspective, Dr. Ahmad held the position of Senior Scientist/Assistant Professor at Indiana University, and was a Visiting Fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. He received his Ph.D in Biochemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in India. He has published numerous peer reviewed articles including nine papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Oak Lawn school district adds Ramadan to its calendar

OAK LAWN, IL–The Oak Lawn school district has decided to include Ramadan as well as Christmas on its calendar.

The school board, which serves the west end of Oak Lawn and parts of Bridgeview, agreed to add to the school calendar observances of the Muslim religious holiday of Ramadan and to continue traditional observances of Christmas. Halloween celebrations also will continue.

The board’s action followed an evening of public comment last week during which residents protested earlier administrative decisions to “tone down” all holiday celebrations in response to complaints from a Muslim mother that her religion’s traditions were being neglected. The mother also complained about the inclusion of Jell-O on the menus in school cafeterias. Jell-O includes pork products, Muslims do not eat.

Muslims now comprise one-third of the school enrollment.


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