Just weeks before former Ohio deputy treasurer Amer Ahmad fled to Pakistan and became a federal fugitive, he took a family vacation to Hawaii with his wife and their three children, according to photos uploaded in March to an online picture sharing service.
The Ahmads went swimming in the hotel pool. They flew over black sand beaches. The kids visited a macadamia nut shop. And the family posed on the beach for professional-looking portraits.
During the sightseeing and beach time, Ahmad was awaiting criminal sentencing in one of the largest public bribery and kickback schemes in Ohio history.
“Had I known there was that sort of trip, it wouldn’t have happened,” said U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson in Columbus, who is handling the Ahmad case. “Because typically I don’t approve of those sorts of things. And particularly, at that point, he had pled guilty and had a sentencing that was pending.”
Ahmad, 39, pleaded guilty in December to bribery and conspiracy charges for his role steering treasurer’s office trades to a high school pal who made $3.2 million in commissions and then kicked back $523,000 to Ahmad and two co-conspirators. Ahmad had been free on a no-cash bond while he awaited sentencing.
His conditions of release included: appearing in court, reporting to pre-trial officers for supervision in Chicago where he lived, surrendering for any sentence imposed, surrending his passport, continuing any medical or psychiatric treatment directed by pre-trial services, and reporting any contact he had with law enforcement such as traffic stops or arrests.
“Otherwise there were no limitations — and none indicated, I might add,” Watson said. “Because you’re dealing with a United States citizen with a young family who would’ve appeared to have had no reason to flee or not have been a threat to flee.”
Ahmad was not required to wear an electronic bracelet or be on home arrest. Ahmad, who was born in Akron to Pakistani nationals, did surrender his U.S. passport.
But that didn’t stop him from fleeing the country on April 22. He caught a flight to San Diego, took a taxi to the Mexican border and walked into Tijuana with more than $176,000 in cash in a roller bag, according to a journal Ahmad kept of his clandestine escape that was later confiscated. From there, he flew to Mexico City, arranged for a fake passport and hopped a series of flights that carried him to Lahore, Pakistan, on April 28.
The Pakistani Federal Investigations Agency stopped him for traveling on fake documents. He is now awaiting trial on charges related to the bogus documents, carrying a false national identification card and trying to smuggle in cash – which has since been confiscated and deposited in the Pakistani treasury.
It is not clear whether Ahmad will be returned to the United States to face sentencing in the kickback scheme.
Shahid Aslam, a reporter for the News International in Lahore, said the Pakistani government has not responded to requests by American officials to return Ahmad to the U.S. and it appears Pakistani officials want their local courts to decide Ahmad’s fate.
“But personally, I believed one day Amer would be repatriated/deported back to the U.S. after court’s verdicts, which could compromise a fine or some months of imprisonment or both,” Aslam said in an email. “But don’t rule out that he may not be deported as well.”
Aslam said Ahmad is scheduled to appear in court today in Pakistan on Thursday. If he receives minimal punishment, he could be set free to live in Pakistan and apply for citizenship, Aslam said.
Judge Watson said that Ahmad could be sentenced in federal court in abstentia, though he has yet to decide whether to do so.
“I don’t have a deadline in mind,” Watson said. “There are several other co-defendants whose sentencings remain pending as well. So, at some point we’ll have to make a decision to either sentence or not sentence, but I’m not there yet.”