Pilgrimage scam: Pa. man gets 5 years for bilking elderly devout

Prosecutors say the Elkins Park man ran the scheme, promising trips and even an audience with the Pope only to cancel the tours after being paid.

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A suburban Philadelphia man is heading to federal prison for bilking devout customers out of more than $400,000 by promising holy land trips that never happened.

A federal judge ordered 74-year-old John Baird to spend five years in prison for ripping off mostly elderly victims who thought they were buying trips to Christian pilgrimage sites.

Prosecutors say the Elkins Park man ran the scheme from 2004 to 2007 as operator of Christian Pilgrim Tours. He promised trips and even an audience with the Pope only to cancel the tours after getting paid in advance.

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Baird blamed legal advisers for his business problems but U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson rejected that excuse, saying Baird preyed on the vulnerable.

Baird was also ordered to repay his victims about $410,000.

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