Indian National Convicted in Charity T-Shirt Scheme

Times Staff Writer

One of two Indian nationals accused of bilking a European financier out of $550,000 by falsely claiming to hold a license to manufacture T-shirts for the Hands Across America project was given a three-year suspended sentence Wednesday.

Guatam Malhotra, an illegal alien from India living in La Mirada, also was placed on five years' probation by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Miriam Vogel.

Pleaded No Contest

Malhotra pleaded no contest Aug. 29 to one count of receiving stolen property.

Prosecutors said Malhotra and Vijay Khanna, of New Delhi, were able to persuade financier C. K. Pithawalla of Liechtenstein to wire them money on the pretext that they needed a loan to produce 4.8 million T-shirts for the May 25 event on behalf of America's hungry and homeless.

In imposing sentence on Malhotra's 30th birthday, Vogel also ordered him to make restitution of an amount up to $20,000, with the precise figure to be determined at a hearing set for Tuesday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Frederick G. Stewart said the $20,000 represents the amount of money that Malhotra, who was employed as a travel agent at the time of his arrest, actually received and spent.

Vogel said she will ask the Immigration and Naturalization Service not to deport Malhotra immediately, even if he wants to leave the country and waives his right to a hearing, so that he will be forced to make restitution to Pithawalla.

Extradition Sought

As Stewart explained later, the defendant could be sent to prison for three years if he remains in this country and fails to meet the conditions of his probation.

Stewart said authorities are seeking to extradite Khanna, 44, from India, where he fled after the scheme was uncovered.

Organizers of Hands Across America, who claimed 5.5 million participants as well as $33 million in actual donations and $8 million in pledges, had nothing to do with the T-shirt scam, authorities said.

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