Muhammad Haroon Rashid was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Aug. 10 by 458th District Court Judge Kenneth Cannata for engaging in organized criminal activity – and Rashid wasn’t even there.
The 62-year old Houston man pled guilty in court on April 3, but failed to appear at a later court date in June. Rashid’s bond was forfeited and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The case was then reset for the sentencing hearing on Aug. 10 during which the court proceeded in Rashid’s absence.
According to Fort Bend’s Chief Economic Crime Prosecutor, W. Scott Carpenter, Texas law authorized the legal proceeding to continue in Rashid’s absence because he appeared initially for the plea, through a process called “in absentia.”
Gerald Dale Hendrix, also from Houston – and Rashid’s partner in crime, appeared for all court dates and was sentenced to six years in prison.
The evidence revealed that Rashid and Hendrix preyed on the business community from 2003 to 2013 through a series of deceitful schemes. The schemes involved the defendants promising business loans or the sale of collector’s grade antique bonds for exorbitant sums of money, if the victims paid the up-front expenses associated with the transactions. Eighteen victims relied on Hendrix’s promises and transferred more than $5 million to Rashid.
Rashid spent the money on a lavish lifestyle in Mexico City; leasing hotel suites for months on end, and paying some of the funds to Hendrix and other associates. When Rashid and Hendrix’s promises to return the expense money did not materialize, the victims filed civil lawsuits. Some reported the matter to the Sugar Land Police Department, kicking off an investigation that revealed 17 other victims being defrauded throughout the United States during this 10-year period.
At the sentencing hearing, Judge Cannata commented on the complete lack of remorse and assessed the maximum $10,000 fine and over $4 million in restitution against Rashid. The defendant’s formal sentencing has been delayed pending his arrest. He is believed to be in Miami, Fla.
“This prosecution demonstrates the reach of Texas law to protect innocent victims not only in Fort Bend County, but in other counties and states, who rely upon ostensibly honest business partners and are defrauded,” said Carpenter.
“This prosecution also shows the eagerness of the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute financial crimes,” said District Attorney John Healey, “and Carpenter enjoys few things more than to give criminals an appropriate dose of justice.”
Engaging in organized criminal activity is a first-degree felony punishable by 5-99 years or life in prison and a fine up to $10,000. Attorney Jeff Deason represented Hendrix. Rashid’s attorney withdrew from the case after Rashid failed to appear in June.