A man who defrauded at least 45 victims throughout the United States, including two in Vermont, by exploiting the Islamic tenet of aiding stranded travelers has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Mobile, Ala., according to the FBI. . .
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.,-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he received complaints about Agbareia starting 15 years ago. In the years since, Hooper said the group has taken dozens of complaints from Muslims around the country and estimated the amount Agbareia collected to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Hooper said he thought people believed Agbareia's stories because they played off the strong Islamic tradition of helping travelers in need.
"It was believable," Hooper said. "It was something that was doable for people. We had cab drivers taking out personal loans to send money to him.
"He was just taking advantage of that tradition of generosity."
Hooper said the council "tried mightily" over the years to have Agbareia arrested, but his scam was so widespread that no one agency could bring all the reports together.
Agbareia was first indicted in U.S. District Court in Burlington on March 10, 2005, but that case remains sealed. Agbareia was then indicted by a federal grand jury in Alabama in May, arrested in Canada as that country tried to deport him to Israel and extradited to the United States on Jan. 20.
He pleaded guilty on March 3 in federal court in Mobile, and will be sentenced there July 10. Zouhair Youssei Hissy, Agbareia's accomplice, remains in custody in Canada awaiting extradition to the United States on identical charges.
Hooper said Agbareia's capture was a relief but has left questions unanswered, especially about the man's religious beliefs.
"Who knows what he is?" Hooper said of whether Agbareia is a Muslim. "If he is, he's not a good one."