March 13, 2008

Brothers Avoid Jail in Air-Ticket Scheme


Two North Jersey brothers who emigrated from India and built a successful travel consulting business were spared prisons terms Friday in a scheme to fraudulently sell discounted airline tickets.

"This has been a serious detour from an otherwise law-abiding life," U.S. District Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr. said in sentencing Sanjeev Sarna, 40, of Glen Rock and Rajeev Sarna, 44, of Bergenfield to four months of home confinement with electronic monitoring.

During the hearing, both brothers and their wives broke into tears as they apologized and promised never to break the law again.

The judge took a short recess before he placed them on probation for two years and ordered each to pay a $5,000 fine.

The Sarnas pleaded guilty Oct. 26 of conspiring to defraud United Airlines in the sale of special-fare tickets offered only to companies for employee travel to attend business meetings.

Lawyers for the brothers said the masterminds were a pair of United Airlines insiders who devised the scheme, approached their clients and used them as conduits to distribute hundreds of tickets to travel agencies for sale to the public as full-priced tickets.

As part of the scam, authorities said, the airline employees entered into fraudulent ticket contracts with a dummy company and pocketed more than $40,000 in improper payments from the Sarnas, who paid them about $30 a ticket.

Robert J. Kipnees, Sanjeev Sarna's lawyer, said the brothers were coerced by the airline employees, who he said threatened their livelihood if they didn't play ball.

James B. Daniels, who represented Rajeev Sarna, said he was a good man who worked hard to take care of his family and will have to live with his mistake for the rest of his life.

The airline conspirators, sales representatives Sandy Chavez of Secaucus and Marlene Wilson of Pompton Plains, pleaded guilty in December and are facing sentencing March 24, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam S. Lurie.


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