Ex-Rahm Emanuel aide’s fugitive diary
By RUMMANA HUSSAIN, DAN MIHaLOPOULOS AND ASAD KHARAL Staff Reporters May 1, 2014 7:00PM
Amer Ahmad (left) in April 2011 as then-Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announces his appointment as city comptroller. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times file photo
Updated: June 3, 2014 6:41AM
Amer Ahmad “tossed and turned” in his bed last week on what he planned would be his final night in Chicago.
The next morning, April 22, he went through “by far the hardest moments” of his life when he left behind his wife and three young children at their spacious home on the South Side, he wrote in a journal obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Ahmad was expecting a quick reunion, though. And he wrote that he had no doubts about sneaking out of the country to dodge punishment for crimes he had admitted committing as Ohio’s deputy state treasurer, before he came to Chicago to take a post as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s city comptroller three years ago.
“I should have left many, many months ago,” Ahmad wrote in one diary entry. “S---, I should have left after the first FBI interview back in November of 2012, when I still had all my documents and wasn’t indicted or anything.”
Ahmad titled the diary “Journey to Freedom: Who said escaping injustice would be easy?” It was found on his laptop computer, which Pakistani authorities confiscated when they detained him Monday upon his arrival in that country.
The five-page account offers a step-by-step narrative of Ahmad’s brief time on the lam from American justice. It also explains much about how he ended up in his ancestral homeland with a fake Mexican passport, forged visa and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
In December, Ahmad, 39, had pleaded guilty to being part of a large kickback and money-laundering scheme. Still living in Chicago, he was allowed to remain free on bail while awaiting sentencing but had been forced to surrender his passport. He was facing a prison term of as long as 15 years and had agreed to pay $3.2 million in restitution.
On April 25, authorities in Ohio got a warrant for his arrest, saying he’d violated the terms of his bail. The warrant was issued just hours after Ahmad’s wife obtained an emergency order of protection against him from a Cook County judge, saying her husband had been physically abusive to her. Samar Ahmad also said she angered her husband when she refused his demand to get him “a fake birth certificate from Pakistan” for a passport so he could flee there.
According to his journal, Ahmad already was far from Chicago by the time the two judges took action against him last week. Three days before the warrant was issued, Ahmad sneaked out of the country, according to his journal.
He wrote that he had been “hoping beyond hope that one day I’d get a call from an overpriced lawyer saying that the Government (Capital G) was being reasonable all of a sudden. But I never got that call and the clock was ticking.”
He says he didn’t tell his wife about his plans to run, “lest she get in trouble,” before he boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Midway Airport to San Diego on April 22.
“I was worried about transporting so much cash through security, but it was a breeze and at 7 p.m. Pacific time, I found myself in sunny San Diego,” he wrote.
Ahmad wrote that he got in a cab and went straight to the U.S.-Mexico border, which he then crossed on foot. He wrote that he paused briefly to sing “three lullabies for my kiddos” and “kept my head down as we passed the last American guards (Homeland Security, my ass) … I said another prayer under my breath and walked through to Mexico. ‘Holy s---! I am gone,’ was my first thought.”
In the border city of Tijuana, he bought a seat on a flight to Mexico City. Before boarding the red-eye flight, Ahmad fretted that “the damn cash” would raise questions among security personnel.
“Much to my surprise, there was no problem,” Ahmad wrote. “They were curious about the Google Glass box but they didn’t flinch at the money. I was on my way to Mexico City! I thought to myself that this wasn’t so bad. But then I got to Mexico City and things started to get much, much harder.”
After checking in at the swank Le Meridien hotel on Mexico City’s main street, he went to the Pakistani Embassy. He wrote that he was hoping to quickly get the paperwork necessary to travel to Pakistan, which he called “The Land of the Pure” — the literal translation of “Pakistan” from Urdu, the country’s primary language.
But he ran into bureaucratic hurdles.
“I had forgotten what it was like to be on the receiving end of government vernacular,” Ahmad wrote. “As a side note, the Ambassador was a d---. Treated me like a piece of garbage.”
One of the questions Pakistani officials in Mexico asked was why Ahmad never had sought a certain document from Pakistan.
“’Um, because I thought I’d be Treasury Secretary of the United States one day and I didn’t think it was a good idea’ as an answer wasn’t going to fly,” wrote Ahmad, who has a master’s in business administration from Harvard University.
Needing a birth certificate, he learned of what he described as a service that, for a $275 money order, will “retrieve your birth certificate from any Pakistani city.”
Unable to send the fee online, Ahmad says he “convinced Mom I was buying clothes and more costume jewelry and she sent the $275 to this random dude in Lahore. Only a mother would do such a thing – without asking why I am buying clothes at 2 a.m.”
An emotional low point in Ahmad’s odyssey came on April 23.
“That night, I cried,” he wrote. “A lot. And begged God for forgiveness for all my sins, anything I could think of. That all I wanted was a simple life with my wife and kids and my loved ones around me. I begged and cried. And then begged and cried some more. All night long.”
He drifted off to sleep, and when he woke the next morning, the birth certificate was in his e-mail inbox. Ahmad hurried back to the embassy – only to be stymied again by red tape.
Leaving the embassy, he says his taxi driver “immediately sensed that something was wrong” and asked how he could help him.
“So I told him my problem,” Ahmad wrote. “I was headed to the airport to try to fly without a passport (unlikely, I know), but if that didn’t work, I asked him, sort of sheepishly, if he’d be willing to help ‘procure’ some document for me that night.”
“Sure, I know just the guy!” the driver replied.
The response, Ahmad wrote, prompted him to think, “No f------ way.”
The diary describes the driver taking him to a meeting near his hotel with “a couple of guys” who gave him “a sense of pricing” and agreed to meet him again at 8 a.m. on April 25.
The journal abruptly ends with Ahmad writing, “I slept well that night. I had a plan. I was already packed and I just needed to get to 8 a.m.”
It’s not clear from the diary how Ahmad got from Mexico to Pakistan, but his plans unraveled four days later when he arrived at Lahore’s international airport, near Pakistan’s border with India.
Pakistani authorities say he presented a fake Mexican passport and other forged documents — including a phony birth certificate — after stepping off an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai around 8 a.m. Monday.
Pakistani authorities took the money Ahmad had hidden on his long journey, as well as his cell phone, Google Glass device and the laptop on which they found the journal. Ahmad did not disclose that he was a fugitive, and he lied by claiming he wasn’t an American citizen, according to Usman Anwar, director in the Punjab region for the Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan’s version of the FBI.
Anwar says his staff found out who Ahmad is by doing a Google search that turned up news stories about his legal troubles.
U.S. officials have declined to comment on the case.
Pakistani authorities have said they plan to file formal charges within a couple of weeks.
For now, Ahmad is being held at the FIA’s Lahore offices — where officials say he’s been singing the Pakistani national anthem in his cell.
Asad Kharal is a Lahore-based reporter for The Express Tribune in Pakistan.