Indians Deepak Patel and James Pinto duped 25 Puneites, Rs 1 lakh each
by promising them jobs in a New York NRI Christian Mission.

Pune, July 4, 2004
Express News Service

Passage to America. Guaranteed jobs paying $12 per hour sans any professional qualifications. Green Card in three years. Free calls to India for three months. Sounds great?

Not anymore for 25-odd Puneites for whom the Great American Dream turned into a nightmare in end-June when they realised they had been duped to the tune of Rs one lakh each by two individuals who promised them jobs in a New York Christian Mission.

After much dithering, one of the victims, Bhagvan Singh Faniram Dhanwal, a resident of Chandan Nagar, lodged a complaint with the Bund Garden police on Saturday accusing Deepak Patel and James Pinto - both residents of Koregaon Park - of duping him and three others over Rs 2.70 lakh. As of now, both Patel and Pinto are absconding.

Based on the complaint, police on Sunday visited Patel’s residence for five months — a rented flat on the fifth floor of Dorabjee Classic building and an office on the sixth floor of the same, but found it locked.

According to investigating officer API Dhananjay Solankar, Patel left the flat on June 21 — a day after sending his victims to New Delhi by the Golden Temple Express from Mumbai. ‘‘The group left by bus for Mumbai on June 20 from Hotel Sargam, Yerawada and to New Delhi by train in the evening. On not being met by Patel’s representative as promised, they returned on June 22 to Pune,’’ Solankar said.

But all this brings little succour to George (name changed on request), on whom the Patel rip-off has taken a heavy toll. ‘‘Eight members of my family including me were supposed to go to the US, based on Patel’s promises, so he gave us discounts. Even then, his fees ran into lakhs of rupees. We don’t know what to do. Our savings are gone, we don’t have our old jobs anymore. It’s a huge blow.’’

Patel, according to George’s description, seems to be the quintessential silver-tongued conman. ‘‘He claimed to be an NRI running a Christian mission in New York after having converted to Christianity. He was so convincing, that, there was no question of suspecting his integrity, and of course everyone had fallen to the lure of making quick bucks. He looked more American than Indian,’’ he said.

According to George, the entire episode began when Patel went to a tyre puncture repair shop to fix a flat, and got the shop owner interested in his offer, and said he was looking for a ‘team’ of only South Indians. ‘‘From there, the news spread by word-of-mouth within close contacts. Many have taken loans, liquidated assets,’’ he added.

The plan was this: Pay Rs one lakh to Messrs Patel and Pinto. They take care of all the paperwork and travel. ‘‘We travelled to New Delhi for a ‘seminar’ on our jobs where we were to meet Patel’s man. No one came to meet us, so we returned to Pune after a day. Patel’s cellphone is switched off and we haven’t managed to contact him,’’ recounts George. (0704)