Pilgrimage tour Operator Pleads Guilty To Fraud
PHILADELPHIA - John B. Baird, 73, of Elkins Park, PA, pleaded guilty today to four counts of mail fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud customers who booked trips to Christian pilgrimage sites. Baird operated Christian Pilgrim Tours, Inc., a travel agency that arranged trips to Christian pilgrimage sites in Europe and the Middle East. He cancelled trips without providing refunds to at least 138 victims, many of whom were senior citizens. Sentencing is scheduled fo May 7, 2012.
Baird advertised in Catholic magazines and often enlisted priests or other church leaders to encourage their members to attend CPT trips. Between April 2006 and February 2007, the government alleges Baird defrauded customers of $423,577, collectively. Baird collected money for tours that he billed as pilgrimages to places of religious significance. He created brochures for the trips in which he promised customers a full refund if the trip was cancelled, provided that the cancellation was not due to “travel warnings, acts of War, acts of God or terrorism.” Baird corresponded with his victims by mail, sending solicitations, flight details and receipts for payment. Baird’s customers paid him directly by mailing him checks, almost always for the full price of the trip, far in advance, in exchange for a discount. Baird used the money for personal expenses and what trips he did book were booked at the last minute. Over the course of the fraud scheme, Baird cancelled seven trips. With few exceptions, he did not return the money to the travelers he bilked. He also received payments by check through the mail.
Baird faces a maximum possible statutory sentence of 80 years imprisonment, a 3-year period of supervised release, restitution, a fine of up to $1 million, and a $400 special assessment.
The case was investigated by United States Postal Inspection Service and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew J. Schell and Christopher Diviny.
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, EASTERN DISTRICTof PENNSYLVANIA
Suite 1250, 615 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
PATTY HARTMAN, Media Contact, 215-861-8525