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Alleged Scam Troubles D.C. Islamic Center
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The Washington Post
Both men echoed those sentiments on the witness stand.
"I trusted him like my own brother," Khouj testified.
"I considered Dr. Khouj a very close friend," Darui testified.
Federal prosecutors say Darui was anything but a friend to Khouj.
They allege that from 2000 through 2006, Darui stole $430,000 from the mosque's "special account," which was funded by the Saudi government to pay mosque expenses. Prosecutors said the theft was devastating: The center had to slash jobs and stop some philanthropic activity because Khouj thought the mosque simply couldn't meet its bills.
"This is a case about fraud, it's about theft, it's about a man who took money that did not belong to him," prosecutor Tejpal Chawla told jurors during Darui's trial.
Prosecutors say Darui took advantage of Khouj's trust and tricked him into signing checks for expenses such as electricity or insurance. After Khouj signed the checks, prosecutors say, Darui altered the payee information, inserting the names of one of his companies, Blue Line Travel or Zaal Inc.
The manager also cashed extra paychecks to staff members, prosecutors say.
Khouj testified that he noticed something was wrong in 2006 when he spotted extra checks being written to a gardener. Later, he testified, he was floored when he saw the bank statements showing unauthorized payments to Darui's firms.
"My feet were frozen," Khouj recalled during trial. "I could not even move. . . . Usually I lead the noon prayer. I couldn't even lead the prayer."
Normally, the FBI would examine the original checks to see whether they had been altered, but the checks had vanished. Without the originals, federal authorities had to use copies of invoices and copies of checks kept by the Saudi Embassy to introduce as evidence.
The lack of forensic evidence also forced prosecutors to rely on Khouj, who came under attack from Darui's legal team.