Three men charged in Islamic-based Ponzi scheme

Three owners of a Chicago-based real estate development firm have been charged with fraud for allegedly cheating investors out of $43 million while claiming to be compliant with Islamic law.

Three men charged in Islamic-based Ponzi scheme

Three men charged in Islamic-based Ponzi schemew.

A federal grand jury returned a 14-count indictment against the owners of Sunrise Equities on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a Wednesday statement. Federal officials said Salman Ibrahim, the majority owner and president of the now-bankrupt firm, and Mohammad Akbar Zahid, senior vice president of investor relations and a 10-percent owner, told clients that their investments would comply with Shariah law.

Islamic law prohibits interest, so Ibrahim and Zahid told investors they would receive monthly pay-outs of profits from real estate development. According to Fitzgerald’s office, the men promised annual returns of between 15 and 30 percent.

Federal officials said the three owners actually operated a Ponzi scheme between January 2003 and September 2008, selling promissory notes and using the proceeds to make fake profit payments to earlier investors. The men are accused of cheating hundreds of individual investors as well as making false statements to get loans from Mutual Bank, Cole Taylor Bank and Devon Bank. They allegedly misused investors’ funds, operating projects unrelated to real estate that were not disclosed to clients, and spending money on themselves.

Robert Grant, special agent-in-charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Chicago office, said this case marks the first time in the city “that an alleged fraud scheme has been uncovered that used a pillar of Islam” as a lure.

“A key element in securing the charges was the extraordinary cooperation provided by members of Chicago’s Pakistani community, who were the primary victims of this alleged fraud scheme,” Grant said in a statement.

Federal officials said 37-year-old Ibrahim, a Pakistani national, and 59-year-old Zahid, a U.S. citizen, are believed to have left the country after Sunrise went into bankruptcy. Their whereabouts are unknown. The third owner, 47-year-old Amjed Mahmood of Des Plaines, will be arraigned at a later date. Mahmood was a 10-percent owner and senior vice president of Sunrise.

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